The effects of information utility and teachers’ knowledge on evaluations of under-informative pedagogy across development

Ilona Bass, Elizabeth Bonawitz, Daniel Hawthorne-Madell, Wai Keen Vong, Noah D. Goodman, Hyowon Gweon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Teaching is a powerful way to transmit knowledge, but with this power comes a hazard: When teachers fail to select the best set of evidence for the learner, learners can be misled to draw inaccurate inferences. Evaluating others’ failures as teachers, however, is a nontrivial problem; people may fail to be informative for different reasons, and not all failures are equally blameworthy. How do learners evaluate the quality of teachers, and what factors influence such evaluations? Here, we present a Bayesian model of teacher evaluation that considers the utility of a teacher's pedagogical sampling given their prior knowledge. In Experiment 1 (N=1168), we test the model predictions against adults’ evaluations of a teacher who demonstrated all or a subset of the functions on a novel device. Consistent with the model predictions, participants’ ratings integrated information about the number of functions taught, their values, as well as how much the teacher knew. Using a modified paradigm for children, Experiments 2 (N=48) and 3 (N=40) found that preschool-aged children (2a, 3) and adults (2b) make nuanced judgments of teacher quality that are well predicted by the model. However, after an unsuccessful attempt to replicate the results with preschoolers (Experiment 4, N=24), in Experiment 5 (N=24) we further investigate the development of teacher evaluation in a sample of seven- and eight-year-olds. These older children successfully distinguished teachers based on the amount and value of what was demonstrated, and their ability to evaluate omissions relative to the teacher's knowledge state was related to their tendency to spontaneously reference the teacher's knowledge when explaining their evaluations. In sum, our work illustrates how the human ability to learn from others supports not just learning about the world but also learning about the teachers themselves. By reasoning about others’ informativeness, learners can evaluate others’ teaching and make better learning decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104999
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Bayesian models
  • Causal learning
  • Pedagogy
  • Social evaluation


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