Great minds think alike – or are they just copying?

28 Sep 2017 16:30:06.677

A new study has shown that children as young as eight years old know the difference between independent agreement and copying and can take into account individuals’ independence when evaluating the reliability of a consensus.

The research, Thinking for themselves? The effect of informant independence on children’s endorsement of testimony from a consensushas been published in Social Development and was carried out by Dr Shiri Einav, Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. This is the first study to examine children’s developing ability to consider how a person’s testimony may be influenced by the testimony of others and how this impacts the reliability of information provided.

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For the study, children were shown videos of two groups of three actors who answered questions about a fictional country. The three actors in each group always provided the same answer; however, the responses were different across the two groups. Critically, one group’s responses were independent (they responded privately), whereas the other group’s responses were not (they had access to each other’s answers). Across a series of trials, five to nine year-olds, and adults for comparison, had to decide which answer they thought was the right one.

Assessing reliability

Dr Einav wanted to know whether children assessing the reliability of a consensus view take into account the nature of agreement between individuals (if it arises independently or not), rather than simply whether there is agreement.

The study showed that there is a developmental shift in children’s thinking, between 5 and 8 years of age: the youngest children were more likely to believe the responses of the non-independent group whereas the older children recognised that independent agreement is more reliable.

Social influence

Dr Einav says: “Agreement across a number of people can be reassuring corroboration of a claim’s reliability. However, this is not necessarily the case if agreement does not arise independently, for example when people have access to each other’s responses. In this case, people may agree because they’re unsure of the answer and copy others or because they feel a social pressure to conform, not because they actually all think the same.”

“I think it’s heartening for parents to know that children as young as eight are aware of the important distinction between these two types of agreement. As children learn more about the range of mental states and social motivations that underlie what people say and do, they can apply increasingly sophisticated critical thinking to work out the reliability of information sources.”


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Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

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Story credits

More information is available from Dr Shiri Einav, on 0115 846 7433,

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager (Faculty of Science)

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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Published Date
Thursday 18th July 2013

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