Teaching 3.5-Year-Olds to Revise Their Beliefs Given Ambiguous Evidence

Elizabeth Bonawitz, Adina Fischer, Laura Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Previous research suggests that 3-year-olds fail to learn from statistical data when their prior beliefs conflict with evidence. Are children's beliefs entrenched in their folk theories, or can preschoolers rationally update their beliefs? Motivated by a Bayesian account, we conducted a training study to investigate this question. Children (45 months) who failed to endorse a statistically more probable (but a-priori unlikely) cause following ambiguous evidence were assigned to a Statistical Reasoning training, one of two Prior Belief trainings (Base Rates, Mechanisms), or a Control condition. Relative to the Control, children in the trainings were more likely to endorse the a-priori unlikely variable on a free-explanation task. Critically, children in the Statistical Reasoning condition passed this task, even though their only information about the belief-violating variable came from ambiguous evidence. This suggests that statistical reasoning training improves preschoolers' ability to learn even from data inconsistent with their prior beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-280
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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