Knowing how you know: Two-year-olds re-evaluate words learnt from an unreliable speaker

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Description: 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 re-evaluate 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 learnt words from a speaker who has previously revealed themselves as reliable (correctly labelling familiar objects) as opposed to an unreliable labeller (incorrectly labelling familiar objects). Experiment 2 then provided the critical test for source monitoring: children first learnt novel words from a speaker before watching that speaker labelling 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 labeller. Thus, young children can re-evaluate 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.

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