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Psychol Sci. 2005 May;16(5):385-90.

The development of cynicism.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Two experiments explored the development of cynicism by examining how children evaluate other people who make claims consistent or inconsistent with their self-interests. In Experiment 1, kindergartners, second graders, and fourth graders heard stories with ambiguous conclusions in which characters made statements that were aligned either with or against self-interest. Older children took into account the self-interests of characters in determining how much to believe them: They discounted statements aligned with self-interest, whereas they accepted statements going against self-interest. Experiment 2 examined children's endorsement of three different explanations for potentially self-interested statements: lies, biases, and mistakes. Like adults, sixth graders endorsed lies and bias as plausible explanations for wrong statements aligned with self-interest; younger children did not endorse bias. Implications for the development of cynicism and children's understanding of bias are discussed.

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