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Br J Dev Psychol. 2014 Sep;32(3):345-58. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12046. Epub 2014 May 10.

To the letter: early readers trust print-based over oral instructions to guide their actions.

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  • 1School of Education Boston University, Massachusetts, USA.


Children have many opportunities to learn from others through oral and written sources. Recent evidence suggests that early readers place more trust in written over oral testimony when learning names for unfamiliar objects. Across three studies, we examined whether the authority of print extends beyond mere naming to guide children's actions in the physical world. In Study 1, 3- to 6-year-olds received conflicting oral and print-based advice from two puppets about how to operate a novel apparatus. Whereas pre-readers were indiscriminate in their trust, early readers preferred to follow the print-based advice. In Study 2, we replicated this finding, controlling for the amount of corroborating evidence presented by both sources, and the location of the print. In Study 3, we explored whether readers' preference for print-based information was due to a global preference for external representations, or a more specific preference for text. Children were presented with conflicting instructions based on text versus a coloured circle. Whereas pre-readers preferred to follow the colour circle, readers preferred to follow the text. Together, the results suggest that when children learn to read, they rapidly come to regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information about how to act in the world.

© 2014 The British Psychological Society.


knowledge; literacy; text; trust in testimony

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