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Optimistic expectations about communication explain children's difficulties in hiding, lying, and mistrusting liars*


We suggest that preschoolers’ frequent obliviousness to the risks and opportunities of deception comes from a trusting stance supporting verbal communication. Three studies (N = 125) confirm this hypothesis. Three-year-olds can hide information from others (Study 1) and they can lie (Study 2) in simple settings. Yet when one introduces the possibility of informing others in the very same settings, three-year-olds tend to be honest (Studies 1 and 2). Similarly, four-year-olds, though capable of treating assertions as false, trust deceptive informants (Study 3). We suggest that children's reduced sensitivity to the opportunities of lying, and to the risks of being lied to might help explain their difficulties on standard false belief tasks.

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This research was supported by a PhD grant from the Direction Générale de l'Armement, by a grant from the Agence nationale de la recherche (grant number: ANR-14-ACHN-0020, PRAGmatics and Trust In Commnication in eArly Life), and by a grant from the European Research Council (grant number: ERC-2013-SyG, Constructing Social Minds: Communication, Coordination and Cultural Transmission, ERC, grant agreement n° [609819]). Data collection was also supported by the Centre for the Study of the Mind in Nature from the University of Oslo. The authors thank the members of the Naturalism in Human Sciences (NaSH) research group of the Jean Nicod Institute, as well as the children, parents, and teachers of the schools that participated in the study.

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Journal of Child Language
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