On the malleability of selective trust

Kathryn A. Leech, Amanda S. Haber, Sudha Arunachalam, Katelyn Kurkul, Kathleen H. Corriveau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although much research has explored the cues that young children use to determine informant credibility, little research has examined whether credibility judgments can change over time as a function of children's language environment. This study explored whether changes in the syntactic complexity of adults’ testimony shifts 4- and 5-year-old children's (N = 42) credibility and learning judgments. Children from lower-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds were randomly assigned to hear a high proportion of complex language (the passive voice) or simpler language (the active voice) during 10 days of book-reading interactions with adult experimenters. Before and after the book-reading sessions, children's learning preferences for informants who used passive versus active voice were measured. Exposure to the complex passive voice led children to use syntactic complexity as a cue to make inferences about who to learn from, whereas active voice exposure resulted in no such shift. Implications for the role of the language environment in children's selective trust are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-74
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Book-reading
  • Language
  • Preschool-aged children
  • Selective trust
  • Syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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