Learning About Bias at an Early Age

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Science  13 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5724, pp. 929
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5724.929b

Interpreting what someone else says can involve making an assessment of what that person believes or wants. In the former kind of situation, adults and children (from about 3 years of age onward) are capable of appreciating that what the speaker knows may not be an accurate representation of reality—that is, what is said appears to be true from the speaker's point of view, but is in fact not true because the speaker holds a false belief. In the latter type of situation, adults are aware that self-interest can lead one to make statements that are outright lies (motivated, intentional errors), reflect biases (motivated but unintentional errors), or simply are plain old mistakes.

Mills and Keil have examined how children evaluate these kinds of statements. In the first setting, where the outcome of a footrace was ambiguous, second- and fourth-graders, unlike kindergartners, were less apt to believe contestants who claimed to have won as compared to those who admitted defeat. In another setting in which the outcome was unambiguous, kindergartners, second-graders, and fourth-graders all were inclined to label erroneous claims aligned with the speaker's self-interest as lies and those aligned against as mistakes; however, sixth-graders demonstrated the beginnings of an awareness of how self-interest might unintentionally induce a misstatement and hence identified some of the erroneous claims as the products of bias. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 16, 385 (2005).


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