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Knowing how you know: Toddlers reevaluate words learned from an unreliable speaker

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalOpen Mind: Discoveries in Cognitive Science (Open Mind)
Early online date5 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2021


There has been little investigation of the way source monitoring, the ability to track the source of one’s knowledge, may be involved in lexical acquisition. In two experiments, we tested whether toddlers (mean age 30 months) can monitor the source of their lexical knowledge and reevaluate their implicit belief about a word mapping when this source is proven to be unreliable. Experiment 1 replicated previous research (Koenig & Woodward, 2010): children displayed better performance in a word learning test when they learned words from a speaker who has previously revealed themself as reliable (correctly labeling familiar objects) as opposed to an unreliable labeler (incorrectly labeling familiar objects). Experiment 2 then provided the critical test for source monitoring: children first learned novel words from a speaker before watching that speaker labeling familiar objects correctly or incorrectly. Children who were exposed to the reliable speaker were significantly more likely to endorse the word mappings taught by the speaker than children who were exposed to a speaker who they later discovered was an unreliable labeler. Thus, young children can reevaluate recently learned word mappings upon discovering that the source of their knowledge is unreliable. This suggests that children can monitor the source of their knowledge in order to decide whether that knowledge is justified, even at an age where they are not credited with the ability to verbally report how they have come to know what they know.

    Research areas

  • source monitoring, word learning, selective trust, metacognition

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