Research corner

5th December 2014 at 00:00

"You seem certain but you were wrong before: developmental change in preschoolers' relative trust in accurate versus confident speakers" by Brosseau-Liard, P, Cassels, T and Birch, S

PLoS One, September 2014

There's a widely held belief that if you say something with enough confidence, people are bound to accept it - and this is thought to be especially true when you are talking to children. But, even with a confident tone behind it, that belief does not stand up to research.

A project at Canada's University of British Columbia studied almost 100 four- and five-year-olds to see whether a confident tone would carry more weight than a more hesitant, uncertain one.

The children were given facts about the names of rare animals by two women they had not met before - one who was confident but inaccurate, and another who was hesitant but more accurate. Beforehand, pupils were shown footage of the women giving out information about animals that they were likely to know about, including ducks and whales.

Despite having evidence that the confident woman was inaccurate, the children were initially more likely to indicate trust in her assertions. However, as the children aged, they learned to disregard the tone in favour of the facts, leading to a shift in trust from the confident, inaccurate woman to the hesitant, accurate one.

So be careful when you tell a white lie to your class - do so one too many times and they might just be able to see through your bluster. And nobody wants to find out the truth about Father Christmas that way.

Sarah Cunnane

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