Journal Articles

Akhtar, N., Jaswal, V. K., Dinishak, J., & Stephan, C. (in press). On social feedback loops and cascading effects in autism: A commentary on Warlaumont et al. (2014). Psychological Science. [Abstract]

Warlaumont, Richards, Gilkerson, and Oller (2014) describe a social feedback loop whereby the contingency with which adults respond to typically developing young children's speech-like vocalizations influences the likelihood that the children will produce more speech-like vocalizations. In this commentary, we critique the application of this model to autism spectrum disorder because it does not pay sufficient attention to the well-documented motor difficulties of autistic individuals, nor to the dynamic nature of communicative motivation.

Palmquist, C. M., Jaswal, V. K., & Rutherford, A. V. (in press). Success inhibits preschoolers' ability to establish selective trust. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. [Abstract]

A number of studies have shown that preschoolers make inferences about potential informants based on the informants' past behavior, selectively trusting an informant who has been helpful in the past, for example, over one who has been unhelpful. Here we use a hiding game to show that 4- and 5-year-olds' selective trust can also be influenced by inferences they make about their own abilities. Children do not prefer a previously helpful informant over a previously unhelpful one when informant helpfulness is decoupled from children’s success in finding hidden objects (Studies 1 and 3). Indeed, they do not seem to track informant helpfulness when their success at finding hidden objects has never depended on it (Study 2). A single failure to find a hidden object when offered information by the unhelpful informant can, however, lead them to selectively trust the previously helpful informant later (Study 4). Children’s selective trust is based not only on differences between informants, but also on their sense of illusory control—their inferences about whether they need assistance from those informants in the first place.

Jaswal, V. K., & Kondrad, R. L. (2016). Why children are not always epistemically vigilant: Cognitive limits and social considerations. Child Development Perspectives. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Young children are thought to be motivated to avoid individuals who have been wrong in the past so as to minimize the risk of being misinformed. Yet they sometimes act on testimony from formerly inaccurate informants. Most explanations for this behavior have focused on limits in children's ability to process inaccurate testimony, such as difficulty inhibiting the normally appropriate bias to believe what people say. In this article, we argue that children may also use information from formerly inaccurate informants because doing so allows them to achieve other, nonepistemic goals. Testimony not only offers children a way to learn about the world, but it also offers them a way to pursue social goals that may be separate from learning.

Jaswal, V. K., Akhtar, N., & Burack, J. A. (2016). Building bridges: Cognitive development in typical and atypical populations. Journal of Cognition and Development. doi: 10.1080/15248372.2016.1199633

Drell, M.B. & Jaswal, V. K. (2015). Making amends: Children's expectations about and responses to apologies. Social Development, 25, 742-758. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Two studies investigate children's expectations and actual responses to a transgressor's attempt to make amends. In Study 1, six- and seven-year-olds (N=16) participated in a building activity and then imagined how they would respond if a transgressor knocked over their tower and then apologized spontaneously, apologized after prompting, offered restitution, or did nothing. Children forecasted that they would feel better and would share more when a transgressor offered restitution or apologized spontaneously than when the transgressor had to be prompted to apologize or did not apologize at all. In Study 2, six- and seven-year-olds (N=64) participated in the same building activity, but then actually had their towers knocked over and received one of the four responses. The only response that actually made children feel better was when the transgressor offered restitution. However, children shared more with a transgressor who offered restitution, a spontaneous apology, or a prompted apology than with one who failed to offer any apology. Restitution can both mitigate hurt feelings and repair relationships in children; apologies serve mainly to repair relationships.

Palmquist, C. M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2015). Preschoolers' inferences about pointers and labelers: The modality matters. Cognitive Development, 35, 178-185. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Preschoolers seek out and endorse new labels from informants who have previously provided accurate labels over those who have previously provided inaccurate labels (e.g., Koenig et al., 2004). In Study 1, we show that 4-year-olds also prefer a previously accurate pointer over a previously inaccurate one as a source of information about newly hidden objects. In Study 2, we show that they do not expect that a previously accurate pointer will necessarily be a good labeler, though they do expect a previously accurate labeler will be a good pointer. This asymmetry suggests that the scope of inferences children draw about the knowledge of informants can be influenced by the modality in which they communicate. By sharing semantic information (e.g., object names), labelers demonstrate generalizable knowledge; by sharing episodic information (e.g., an object's location), pointers demonstrate more limited knowledge.

Dore, R. A., Jaswal, V. K., & Lillard, A. S. (2015). Real or not? Speaker informativeness influences children's reality judgments. Cognitive Development, 33, 28-39. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Do children use the Gricean maxim of informativeness ("Make your contribution as informative as is required") to guide judgments about the reality status of novel entities? In three studies, 9-year-olds watched video clips of two adults discussing novel entities. In Studies 1 and 2, children were less likely to believe in entities introduced with only explicit belief statements (e.g., "I believe in cusk") than those introduced with other information (e.g., "We saw some cusk in the trees") or both explicit belief statements and other information. In Study 3, children were more likely to believe in entities about which speakers professed a belief and appeared to be providing additional information (even though that information was unintelligible) than those about which they only professed a belief. Consistent with the maxim of informativeness, 9-year-olds expect speakers to introduce novel entities by providing more information about them than a mere statement of belief.

Oishi, S., Jaswal, V. K., Lillard, A. S., Hitokoto, H., Mizokawa, A., & Tsutsui, Y. (2014). Cultural variations in global versus local processing: A developmental perspective. Developmental Psychology, 50, 2654-2665. [doi for full text][Abstract]

We conducted three studies to explore cultural differences in global versus local processing and their developmental trajectories. In Study 1 (N = 363), we found that Japanese college students were less globally oriented in their processing than American or Argentine participants. We replicated this effect in Study 2 (N = 1,843) using a nationally representative sample of Japanese and American adults ages 20 to 69, and found further that adults in both cultures became more globally oriented with age. In Study 3 (N = 133), we investigated the developmental course of the cultural difference using Japanese and American children, and found it was evident by 4 years of age. Cultural variations in global versus local processing emerge by early childhood, and remain throughout adulthood. At the same time, both Japanese and Americans become increasingly global processors with age.

Jaswal, V. K., Pérez-Edgar, K., Kondrad, R. L., Palmquist, C. M., Cole, C. A., & Cole, C. E. (2014). Can't stop believing: Inhibitory control and resistance to misleading testimony. Developmental Science, 17, 965-976. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Why are some young children consistently willing to believe what they are told even when it conflicts with first-hand experience? In this study, we investigated the possibility that this deference reflects an inability to inhibit a prepotent response. Over the course of several trials, 2.5- to 3.5-year-olds (N = 58) heard an adult contradict their report of a simple event they had both witnessed, and children were asked to resolve this discrepancy. Those who repeatedly deferred to the adult's misleading testimony had more difficulty on an inhibitory control task involving spatial conflict than those who responded more skeptically. These results suggest that responding skeptically to testimony that conflicts with first-hand experience may be challenging for some young children because it requires inhibiting a normally appropriate bias to believe testimony.

Eyden, J., Robinson, E. J., Einav, S., & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). The power of print: Children's trust in unexpected printed suggestions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116, 593-608. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

How do children evaluate the veracity of printed text? We examined children's handling of unexpected suggestions conveyed via print versus orally. In Experiment 1 (N = 131), 3- to 6-year-olds witnessed a speaker either read aloud an unexpected but not completely implausible printed label (e.g., fish for a bird-like animal with some fish features) or speak the label without accompanying text. Pre-readers accepted labels in both conditions. Early readers often rejected spoken labels yet accepted them in the print condition, and in Experiment 2 (N = 55) 3- to 6-year-olds continued to apply them even after the print was obscured. Early readers accept printed testimony that they reject if only spoken, and the influence of text endures even when it is no longer visible.

Akhtar, N., & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). Deficit or difference? Interpreting diverse developmental paths: An introduction to the special section. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1-3. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

How should differences between "typically developing" children and other populations be interpreted? To what extent should the emphasis be on advocating remediation for children who are on a developmental trajectory that differs from the norm versus embracing different developmental trajectories as equally valid contributions to the diversity of human experience? The 6 target articles and 2 commentaries in this special section offer a diverse set of perspectives on the tensions and responsibilities inherent in interpreting and acting on differences between children of different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, socioeconomic, and neurological backgrounds.

Kondrad, R. L., & Jaswal, V. K. (2012). Explaining the errors away: Young children forgive understandable semantic mistakes. Cognitive Development, 27, 126-135. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Errors can differ in how serious they are. We asked whether preschoolers would use the magnitude of an informant's errors to decide if she would be a good source of information later. 4- and 5-year-olds heard two informants incorrectly label familiar objects, but one informant's errors were closer to the correct answer than the other's (e.g., one referred to a comb as a brush and the other referred to the same comb as a thunderstorm). When the informants had an unambiguous view of the objects, children could identify which informant was closer to being correct, but they did not selectively favor novel labels the "closer" informant later provided. When the informants had only an ambiguous view of the objects (e.g., only the handle of the comb was visible), children did prefer the novel labels the "closer" informant later provided. Preschoolers are willing to overlook semantic errors that are close to being correct, but only when there is an understandable reason why the speaker erred.

Palmquist, C. M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2012). Preschoolers expect pointers (even ignorant ones) to be knowledgeable. Psychological Science, 23, 230-231. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

How can you tell whether someone knows something? One strategy available early in development involves monitoring whether that person had access to the information in the first place (e.g., Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005). But this strategy is clearly fragile: Children who have a piece of knowledge sometimes mistakenly assume that ignorant individuals share that knowledge (e.g., Birch & Bloom, 2003). Here, we provide the first demonstration that the gesture an informant uses can also cause children to over-estimate her knowledge. Specifically, we found that pointing can lead 3- and 4-year-olds to attribute knowledge to individuals they otherwise recognize are ignorant. Further, we show this effect is specific to pointing: Grasping, another intentional, object-directed gesture, does not lead children to misattribute knowledge.

Palmquist, C. M., Burns, H. E., & Jaswal, V. K. (2012). Pointing disrupts preschoolers' ability to discriminate between knowledgeable and ignorant informants. Cognitive Development, 27, 54-63. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

By 4 years of age, children have been reinforced repeatedly for searching where they see someone point. In two studies, we asked whether this history of reinforcement could interfere with young children's ability to discriminate between a knowledgeable and an ignorant informant. Children watched as one informant hid a sticker while another was turned around, and then both informants indicated where they thought the sticker was, either by pointing or by using a less practiced means of reference. Children failed to discriminate between the two informants when they pointed, but they chose the location indicated by the knowledgeable informant when the informants used a cue other than pointing. Pointing can disrupt as basic an understanding as the link between seeing and knowing.

Pinkham, A. M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2011). Watch and learn? Infants privilege efficiency over pedagogy during imitative learning. Infancy, 16, 535-544. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

This experiment tested how 18-month-old infants' prior experience with an object affects their imitation. Specifically, we asked whether infants would imitate an adult who used her head to illuminate a light-box if they had earlier discovered that the light could be illuminated with their hands. In the Self-Discovery condition, infants had the opportunity to freely explore the light-box; all infants used their hands to activate the light-box at least once during this period. The experimenter then entered the room and, while providing explicit pedagogical cues, demonstrated illuminating the light-box using her forehead. In the Demonstration Only condition, infants just viewed the experimenter's demonstration. During a subsequent testing phase, infants in the Demonstration Only condition were more likely to use their foreheads to activate the light-box. Conversely, infants in the Self-Discovery condition were more likely to use their hands, suggesting that efficiency can "trump" pedagogy in some observational learning contexts.

Tenney, E. R., Small, J. E., Kondrad, R. L., Jaswal, V. K., & Spellman, B. A. (2011). Accuracy, confidence, and calibration: How young children and adults assess credibility. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1065-1077. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

Do children and adults use the same cues to judge whether someone is a reliable source of information? In four experiments, we investigated whether children (ages 5 and 6) and adults used information regarding accuracy, confidence, and calibration (i.e., how well an informant's confidence predicts the likelihood of being correct) to judge informants' credibility. We found that both children and adults used information about confidence and accuracy to judge credibility; however, only adults used information about informants' calibration. Adults discredited informants who exhibited poor calibration, but children did not. Requiring adult participants to complete a secondary task while evaluating informants' credibility impaired their ability to make use of calibration information. Thus, children and adults may differ in how they infer credibility because of the cognitive demands of using calibration.

Koenig, M. A., & Jaswal, V. K. (2011). Characterizing children's expectations about expertise and incompetence: Halo or pitchfork effects? Child Development, 82, 1634-1647. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

Do children expect an expert in one domain to also be an expert in an unrelated domain? In Study 1, 3- and 4-year-olds learned that one informant was an expert about dogs relative to another informant. When presented with pictures of new dogs or of artifacts, children who could remember which informant was the dog expert preferred her over the novice as an informant about the names of dogs, but they had no preference when the informants presented artifact labels. In Study 2, children learned that one informant was incompetent about dogs whereas another was neutral. In this case, children preferred the neutral speaker over the incompetent one about both dogs and artifacts. Taken together, these results suggest that for children, expertise is not subject to a "halo effect," but incompetence may be subject to a "pitchfork effect."

Joh, A., Jaswal, V. K., & Keen, R. (2011). Imagining a way out of the gravity bias: Preschoolers can visualize the solution to a spatial problem. Child Development, 82, 744-750. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

Can young children visualize the solution to a difficult spatial problem? Forty-eight 3-year-olds were tested in a spatial reasoning paradigm in which they were asked to predict the path of a ball moving through one of three intertwined tubes. One group of children was asked to visualize the ball rolling down the tube before they made their predictions, a second group was given identical instructions without being asked to use visual imagery, and a third group was given no instructions. Children in the visualization condition performed significantly better than those in the other conditions, suggesting that encouraging young children to use visual imagery may help them to reason through difficult problems.

Jaswal, V. K., Croft, A. C., Setia, A. R., & Cole, C. A. (2010). Young children have a specific, highly robust bias to trust testimony. Psychological Science, 21, 1541-1547. [doi for full text] [Abstract]

Why are young children so willing to believe what they are told? In two studies, we asked whether it is because of a general, undifferentiated trust in other people or a more specific bias to trust testimony. In Study 1, 3-year-olds heard an experimenter claim that a sticker was in one location when it was actually in another, or they saw her place an arrow on the empty location. All children searched in the wrong location initially, but those who heard the deceptive testimony continued to be misled whereas those who saw her mark the incorrect location with an arrow quickly learned to search in the opposite location. In Study 2, children who could both see and hear a deceptive speaker were more likely to be misled than those who could only hear her. Three-year-olds have a specific, highly robust bias to trust what people—particularly visible speakers—say.

Jaswal, V. K. (2010). Believing what you're told: Young children's trust in unexpected testimony about the physical world. Cognitive Psychology, 61, 248-272. [pdf] [Abstract]

How do children resolve conflicts between a self-generated belief and what they are told? Four studies investigated the circumstances under which toddlers would trust testimony that conflicted with their expectations about the physical world. Thirty-month-olds believed testimony that conflicted with a naive bias (Study 1), and they also repeatedly trusted testimony that conflicted with an event they had just seen (Study 2)—even when they had an incentive to ignore the testimony (Study 3). Children responded more skeptically if they could see that the testimony was wrong as it was being delivered (Study 3), or if they had the opportunity to accumulate evidence confirming their initial belief before hearing someone contradict it (Study 4). Together, these studies demonstrate that toddlers have a robust bias to trust even surprising testimony, but this trust can be influenced by how much confidence they have in their initial belief.

Williamson, R. A., Jaswal, V. K., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2010). Learning the rules: Observation and imitation of a sorting strategy by 36-month-old children. Developmental Psychology, 46, 57-65. [pdf] [Abstract]

Two experiments investigate the scope of imitation by testing whether 36-month-olds can learn to produce a categorization strategy through observation. After witnessing an adult sort a set of objects by a visible property (their color, Experiment 1) or a non-visible property (the particular sounds produced when the objects were shaken, Experiment 2), children showed significantly more sorting by those dimensions relative to children in control groups, including a control group in which children saw the sorted endstate but not the intentional sorting demonstration. The results show that 36-month-olds can do more than imitate the literal behaviors they see; they also abstract and imitate simple rules that they see another person use.

Jaswal, V. K. (2010). Explaining the disambiguation effect: Don't exclude mutual exclusivity. Journal of Child Language, 37, 95-113. [pdf] [Abstract]

When they see a familiar object and an unfamiliar one, and are asked to select the referent of a novel label, children usually choose the unfamiliar object. We asked whether this 'disambiguation effect' reflects an expectation that each object has just one label (mutual exclusivity), or an expectation about the intent of the speaker who uses a novel label. In Study 1, when a speaker gazed at or pointed toward the familiar object in a novel-familiar pair, 30-month-olds (N = 64) selected that object in response to a neutral request, but were much less likely to do so in response to a label request. In Study 2, when a speaker both gazed at and pointed toward the familiar object, toddlers (N = 16) overwhelmingly selected the familiar object in response to a label request. The expectation that each object has just one label can lead children to discount some individual behavioral cues to a speaker's intent, though it can be over-ridden given a combination of pragmatic cues.

Jaswal, V. K., & Dodson, C. S. (2009). Metamemory development: Understanding the role of similarity in false memories. Child Development, 80, 629-635. [pdf] [Abstract]

Research on the development of metamemory has focused primarily on children's understanding of the variables that influence how likely a person is to remember something. But metamemory also involves an understanding of why people occasionally misremember things. We asked 5- and 6-year-olds ( N = 38) to decide whether another child's mistakes in a memory game were due to false memories or guesses. Some of the fictitious child's mistakes were similar to material he had seen earlier and some were not. Six-year-olds, but not 5-year-olds, consistently attributed more similar than dissimilar mistakes to false memories. Understanding the link between similarity and false memories improves significantly between five and six years of age.

VanderBorght, M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2009). Who knows best? Preschoolers sometimes prefer child informants over adult informants. Infant and Child Development, 18, 61-71. [pdf] [Abstract]

Do preschoolers think adults know more about everything than children? Or do they recognize that there are some things that children might know more about than adults? Three-, four-, and five-year-olds ( N = 65) were asked to decide whether an adult or child informant would better be able to answer a variety of questions about the nutritional value of foods and about toys. Children at all ages chose to direct the food questions to the adult and the toy questions to the child. Thus, there are some kinds of information for which preschoolers expect that a child would be a better informant than an adult.

Jaswal, V. K., Lima, O. K., & Small, J. E. (2009). Compliance, conversion, and category induction. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 102, 182-195. [pdf] [Abstract]

When children hear an object referred to with a label that is moderately discrepant from its appearance, they frequently make inferences about that object consistent with the label rather than its appearance. We asked whether 3-year-olds actually believe these unexpected labels ("conversion"), or whether their inferences simply reflect a desire to comply with the considerable experimental demands of the induction task ("compliance"). Specifically, we asked how likely children would be to pass an unexpected label on to another person who had not been present during the labeling event. Results showed that children who used an unexpected label as the basis for inference passed that label on to another person about as often as they could remember it. This suggests that children's label-based inferences do reflect conversion rather than mere compliance.

Schnall, S., Jaswal, V. K., & Rowe, C. (2008). A hidden cost of happiness in children. Developmental Science, 11, F25-F30. [pdf] [Abstract]

Happiness is generally considered an emotion with only beneficial effects, particularly in childhood. However, there are some situations where the style of information processing triggered by happiness could be a liability. In particular, happiness seems to motivate a top-down processing style, which could impair performance when attention to detail is required. Indeed, in Experiment 1, 10- to 11-year-old children ( N = 30) induced to feel a happy mood were slower to locate a simple shape embedded in a complex figure than those induced to feel a sad mood. In Experiment 2, 6- to 7-year-old children ( N = 61) induced to feel a happy mood found fewer embedded shapes than those induced to feel a sad or neutral mood . Happiness may have unintended and possibly undesirable cognitive consequences, even in childhood.

Jaswal, V. K., McKercher, D. A., & VanderBorght, M. (2008). Limitations on reliability: Regularity rules in the English plural and past tense. Child Development, 79, 750-760. [pdf] [Abstract]

Two studies investigated 3- to 5-year-olds' trust in a reliable informant when judging novel labels and novel plural and past tense forms. In Study 1, children endorsed the names of new objects given by an informant who had earlier labeled familiar objects correctly over the names given by an informant who had labeled the same objects incorrectly. In Study 2, children endorsed novel names given by an informant who had earlier expressed the plural of familiar nouns correctly over one who had expressed the plural incorrectly. But when judging the appropriateness of the plural and past tense of novel nouns and verbs, children at all ages overwhelmingly endorsed regular forms provided by the formerly unreliable labeler (Study 1) or morphologist (Study 2) rather than irregular forms provided by the formerly reliable informant.

Jaswal, V. K., & Malone, L. S. (2007). Turning believers into skeptics: 3-year-olds' sensitivity to cues to speaker credibility. Journal of Cognition and Development, 8, 263-283. [pdf] [Abstract]

Under most circumstances, children (and adults) can safely assume that testimony they hear is true. In two studies, we investigated whether 3-year-olds ( N = 100) would continue to hold this assumption even if the person who provided the testimony behaved in an uncertain, ignorant, and/or distracted manner. In Study 1, children were less likely to trust that, e.g., a key-like object was a spoon if the speaker indicated uncertainty about her testimony (e.g., "I think this is a spoon") than if she simply labeled the object ostensively (e.g., "This is a spoon"). In Study 2, 3-year-olds were also more skeptical about a speaker's testimony when she had earlier made an obvious naming error and seemed distracted, but not when she either made an error or seemed distracted. These results indicate that 3-year-olds can respond differently to the same testimony, depending on the speaker's behavior.

Jaswal, V. K. (2007). The effect of vocabulary size on toddlers' receptiveness to unexpected testimony about category membership. Infancy, 12, 169-187. [pdf] [Abstract]

Children must be willing to accept some of what they hear "on faith," even when that testimony conflicts with their own expectations. The study reported here investigated the relationship between vocabulary size, object recognition, and 24-month-olds' ( N = 40) willingness to accept potentially surprising testimony about the category to which an object belongs. Results showed that children with larger vocabularies were better able to recognize atypical exemplars of familiar categories than children with smaller vocabularies. However, they were also most likely to accept unexpected testimony that an object that looked like a member of one familiar category was actually a member of another. These results indicate that 24-month-olds trust classifications provided by adult labeling patterns even when they conflict with the classifications children generate on their own.

Jaswal, V. K., & Markman, E. M. (2007). Looks aren't everything: 24-month-olds' willingness to accept unexpected labels. Journal of Cognition and Development, 8, 93-111. [pdf] [Abstract]

A label can efficiently convey non-obvious information about category membership, but this information can sometimes conflict with one's own expectations. Two studies explored whether 24-month-olds ( N = 56) would be willing to accept a category label indicating that an animal (Study 1) or artifact (Study 2) that looked like a member of one familiar category was actually a member of a different familiar category. Results showed that children were receptive to these unexpected labels, and used them as the basis for inference. These findings indicate that linguistic information can lead even toddlers to "disbelieve their eyes."

Lima, O. K. A., Jaswal, V. K., & Dodson, C. S. (2007). When two heads are not better than one: Partner neglect in paired memory tasks. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 88-94.[pdf] [Abstract]

People can monitor the accuracy of their own memories and can regulate their responses accordingly. But can they monitor and make use of another person's memory? We document a new phenomenon whereby participants neglect a partner's expertise when deciding whether to defer to that partner's memory or to rely on their own. In two experiments, participants studied images for either more, less, or the same amount of time as a partner, and on subsequent recognition tests, they were directed to maximize team performance by either answering themselves or letting their partner respond. In both experiments individuals failed to use their knowledge that the partner would probably have a better memory for certain items. Only when explicitly instructed to estimate their accuracy relative to their partner's did participants take advantage of their partner's greater expertise.

Jaswal, V. K., & Neely, L. A. (2006). Adults don't always know best: Preschoolers use past reliability over age when learning new words. Psychological Science, 17, 757-758. [pdf] [Abstract]

Children learn much of what they know—from words to their birthdates to the fact that the earth is round—from what other people tell them. But not everyone is an equally good informant. One way they can estimate the credibility of a speaker is by evaluating how reliable that person has been in the past. Even preschoolers prefer learning new words from an adult who has previously correctly labeled objects rather than one who has incorrectly done so (Koenig, Clement, & Harris, 2004). Children may also make predictions about a speaker based on that person's membership in a particular group. For example, 4-year-olds expect that an unfamiliar adult, but not necessarily an unfamiliar child, would know the meaning of the word hypochondriac (Taylor, Cartwright, & Bowden, 1991). Which of these two cues to a speaker's credibility—reliability or age—do 3- and 4-year-old children find more compelling?

Jaswal, V. K. (2006). Preschoolers favor the creator's label when reasoning about an artifact's function. Cognition, 99, B83-B92. [pdf] [Abstract]

The creator of an artifact, by virtue of having made the object, has privileged knowledge about its intended function. Do children recognize that the label an artifact's creator uses can convey this privileged information? 3- and 4-year-olds were presented with an object that looked like a member of one familiar artifact category, but which the speaker referred to with the label of a different familiar category (e.g., a key-like object was called a "spoon"). Children who heard the speaker refer to the object as something she made were more likely to assign its function on the basis of the anomalous label she used than those who heard it referred to as something the speaker found. Thus, even very young children expect a unique connection between the label the creator of an artifact uses and the function she intends it to have.

Jaswal, V. K., & Hansen, M. B. (2006). Learning words: Children disregard some pragmatic information that conflicts with mutual exclusivity. Developmental Science, 9, 158-165. [pdf] [Abstract]

Children tend to infer that when a speaker uses a new label, the label refers to an unlabeled object rather than one they already know the label for. Does this inference reflect a default assumption that words are mutually exclusive? Or does it instead reflect the result of a pragmatic reasoning process about what the speaker intended? In two studies, we distinguish between these possibilities. Preschoolers watched as a speaker pointed toward (Study 1) or looked at (Study 2) a familiar object while requesting the referent for a new word (e.g., "Can you give me the blicket?"). In both studies, despite the speaker's unambiguous behavioral cue indicating an intent to refer to a familiar object, children inferred that the novel label referred to an unfamiliar object. These results suggest that children expect words to be mutually exclusive even when a speaker provides some kinds of pragmatic evidence to the contrary.

Jaswal, V. K. (2004). Don't believe everything you hear: Preschoolers' sensitivity to speaker intent in category induction. Child Development, 75, 1871-1885. [pdf] [Abstract]

A label can convey non-obvious information about category membership. Three studies show that preschoolers ( N = 144) sometimes ignore or reject labels that conflict with appearance, particularly when they are uncertain that the speaker meant to use those labels. In Study 1, 4-year-olds were more reluctant than 3-year-olds to accept that, for example, a cat-like animal was a dog just on the basis of hearing it called a "dog." In Studies 2 and 3, this reluctance was overcome when the speaker explicitly or implicitly indicated that use of the unexpected labels was intentional. These studies demonstrate that preschoolers do not treat labels as atheoretical features of objects; rather, they interpret them in light of their understanding of the labeler's communicative intent.

Jaswal, V. K., & Markman, E. M. (2003). The relative strengths of indirect and direct word learning. Developmental Psychology, 39,745-760. [pdf] [Abstract]

Indirect word learning lacks many of the overt social-pragmatic cues to reference available in direct word learning, yet the two result in equally robust mappings when comprehension is assessed immediately after learning. The 3 studies reported here investigated how 3-year-olds (N = 96) respond to more challenging tests of the relative strength of indirect and direct word learning. In Study 1, children's comprehension of indirectly and directly learned proper and common names was tested after a 2-day delay. Both types of learning resulted in proper name mappings that picked out an individual, and common name mappings that could be extended to another category member. In Studies 2 and 3, children's comprehension was tested after they had been provided with additional, and sometimes inconsistent, information about the scope of previously learned words. There was a hint of a difference between indirect and direct word learning, but results overall suggested that the two were equivalent.

Jaswal, V. K., & Markman, E. M. (2001). Learning proper and common names in inferential versus ostensive contexts. Child Development, 72, 768-786. [pdf] [Abstract]

A single, indirect exposure to a novel word provides information that could be used to make a fast mapping between the word and its referent, but it is not known how well this initial mapping specifies the function of the new word. The 4 studies reported here compare the fast mapping of new proper and common names following an indirect exposure requiring inference with the learning of new names following ostension. In Study 1, 3-year-olds were shown an animate-inanimate pair of objects and asked to select, e.g., Dax, a dax, or one. Children spontaneously selected an animate over an inanimate object as the referent for a novel proper name, but had no animacy preference in common name or baseline conditions. Next, the children were asked to perform actions on, e.g., Dax or a dax, when presented with an array of 3 objects: the one they just selected, another member of like kind, and a distracter. An indirectly learned proper name was treated as a marker for the originally selected object only, while a new common name was generalized to include the other category member. Study 2 showed that mappings made by inference were as robust as those made by ostension. Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated that even 2-year-olds can learn as much about the function of a new word from an indirect exposure as from ostension.

Terrace, H. S., Chen, S., & Jaswal, V. (1996). Recall of three-item sequences by pigeons. Animal Learning and Behavior, 24, 193-205. [Abstract]

Eight male pigeons were trained to recall an arbitrary sequence on a delayed matching-to-successive-samples (DMSSs) task. Sample items were presented successively and then displayed simultaneously. Ss were required to respond to items in the order in which they appeared. In Exp 1, Ss responded correctly on 75% of the trials on a 2-item DMSSs task but at a chance level of accuracy on a 3-item task. In Exp 2, Ss who learned to produce a 3-item sequence prior to DMSSs training mastered a 3-item DMSSs task at a 75% level of accuracy. Control Ss, trained initially with the same items on nonserial tasks, performed as poorly on a 3-item DMSSs task as the naive Ss of Exp 1. It was hypothesized that Ss that first learned to produce a 3-item list were able to recall 3-item samples in DMSSs because they had learned to represent 3-item sequences.

Book Chapters

Jaswal, V. K., & Drell, M. B. (2015). The development of social trust. In R. A. Scott & S. M. Kosslyn (Eds.), Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences. New York: Wiley. [doi for full text][Abstract]

Trust is the currency on which all human interactions are based. This entry reviews a diverse body of literature on the development of trust. We begin by describing foundational theories linking early experience to trust, and then discuss how violations of trust affect children. We turn next to a particularly active area of trust research in cognitive development-namely, trust in information learned from what other people say (testimony). Children's willingness to believe what they are told is essential for the cultural transmission of knowledge; it allows them to learn about things they have not experienced themselves. We describe research showing that, in fact, young children have a great deal of difficulty not believing testimony. We suggest that this credulity is the manifestation of a bias to trust testimony specifically rather than a more generic, undifferentiated trust, and speculate about the origins of this bias. Finally, we offer several suggestions of areas for future research, including whether children (like adults) make judgments of trustworthiness based on an individual's facial features, how culture influences trust and trustworthiness, and how children learn to evaluate the credibility of digital sources of information.

Jaswal, V. K., & Pérez-Edgar, K. (2014). Resolving conflicts between observation and testimony: The role of inhibitory control. In E. J. Robinson & S. Einav (Eds.), Trust and skepticism: Children's selective learning from testimony (pp. 110-122). New York: Psychology Press.

Jaswal, V. K. (2013). Biased to believe. In M. R. Banaji & S. A. Gelman (Eds.), Navigating the social world: What infants, children, and other species can teach us (pp. 241-244). New York: Oxford University Press.

McKercher, D. A., & Jaswal, V. K.(2011). Using judgment tasks to assess language knowledge. In E. Hoff (Ed.), The Blackwell guide to research methods in child language (pp. 149-161). NY: Wiley-Blackwell.

Jaswal, V. K. (2010). Division of linguistic labor. In P. Hogan (Ed.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of the language sciences (p. 270). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

DeLoache, J. S., Ganea, P. A., & Jaswal, V. K. (2009). Early learning through language. In J. Colombo, P. McCardle, & L. Freund (Eds.), Infant pathways to language: Methods, models, and research disorders (pp. 119-140). New York: Psychology Press.

Jaswal, V. K., & Fernald, A. (2007). Learning to communicate. In M. Lewis & A. Slater (Eds.), Introduction to infant development, 2nd Edition (pp. 270-287). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Markman, E. M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2004). Acquiring and using a grammatical form class: Lessons from the proper-count distinction. In D. G. Hall & S. Waxman (Eds.), Weaving a lexicon (pp. 371-409). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [pdf]

Markman, E. M., & Jaswal, V. K. (2003). Abilities and assumptions underlying conceptual development. In D. H. Rakison & L. M. Oakes (Eds.), Early category and concept development: Making sense of the blooming, buzzing confusion (pp. 384-402). Oxford: Oxford University Press. [pdf]

Jaswal, V. K., & Fernald, A. (2002). Learning to communicate. In M. Lewis & A. Slater (Eds.), Introduction to infant development (pp. 244-265). Oxford: Oxford University Press. [pdf]

Jaswal, V. K., & Markman, E. M. (2002). Children’s acceptance and use of unexpected category labels to draw non-obvious inferences. In W. Gray & C. Schunn (Eds.), Proceedings of the twenty-fourth annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 500-505). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. [pdf]

Writings for the Popular Press

Jaswal, V. K. (2016). Beliefs about social exchange: A story of corrupt politicians and savvy preschoolers. LIFE Academy Newsletter, April 2016. [Read Article]

Jaswal, V. K. (2014). With gifts, size may not matter. Op-ed, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/9/14.[Read Article]

Jaswal, V. K. (2010). When do children develop skepticism? Big Questions Online, 10/28/10.[Read Article]

Conference Posters

Drell, M. B., Tsang, S., Jaswal, V. K. (2015). "She didn't even say sorry!" Children remember when transgressors fail to apologize. Biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Columbus, OH. [pdf]

Rowell, S. F., Jaswal, V. K., Riggins, T. (2015). Children's interest in talking about the past. Biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Columbus, OH. [pdf]

Drell, M. B., Tsang, S., Jaswal, V. K. (2015). "She didn't even say sorry!" Children remember when transgressors fail to apologize. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA. [pdf]

Jaswal, V. K., Chang, A., Akhtar, N., & Converse, B. A. (2015). Preschoolers expect in-kind reciprocity. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA. [pdf]

Rowell, S. R. & Jaswal, V. K. (2015). I don't remember, do you? Children's emerging abilities to seek help with remembering. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA. [pdf]

Drell, M. B. & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). Say sorry: Making amends following an accidental transgression. Biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Memphis TN. [pdf]

Rowell, S. R. & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). Strategic memory monitoring: The role of confidence in help seeking. Biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Memphis TN. [pdf]

Drell, M. B., Kondrad, R. L., & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). "At least she said something": Children prefer inaccurate over ignorant informants. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle WA. [pdf]

Rowell, S.R. & Jaswal, V. K. (2013). Seeing vs. hearing: Comparing information acquired directly with information acquired via testimony. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle WA. [pdf]