Controlling the message: preschoolers’ use of information to teach and deceive others

Marjorie Rhodes, Elizabeth Bonawitz, Patrick Shafto, Annie Chen, Leyla Caglar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective communication entails the strategic presentation of information; good communicators present representative information to their listeners—information that is both consistent with the concept being communicated and also unlikely to support another concept a listener might consider. The present study examined whether preschool-age children effectively select information to manipulate others’ semantic knowledge, by testing how children choose information to teach or deceive their listeners. Results indicate that preschoolers indeed effectively select information to meet some specific communicative goals. When asked to teach others, children selected information that effectively spanned the concept of interest and avoided overly restrictive or overly general information; when asked to deceive others, they selected information consistent with the intended deceptive messages under some circumstances. Thus, preschool children possess remarkable abilities to select the best information to manipulate what others believe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number867
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 23 2015


  • cognitive development
  • deception
  • evidence selection
  • pedagogy
  • teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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