The key to teaching young children is accuracy and confidence, UBC researchers find
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > The key to teaching young children is accuracy and confidence, UBC researchers find

The key to teaching young children is accuracy and confidence, UBC researchers find

by Freya Lucas

February 03, 2020

Young children have “impressive skills” when it comes to identifying “fake news” or poor sources of information, showing a clear preference for educators who are confident and present accurate information, researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found. 


The study, recently published in the Public Library of Science ONE (PLOS ONE), found that young children between the age of four and five not only prefer to learn from people who appear confident, they also keep track of how well the person’s confidence has matched with their knowledge and accuracy in the past (a concept called ‘calibration’) and avoid learning new information from people who have a history of being overconfident. This is the first research of its kind to demonstrate that children track a person’s calibration.


Children, lead author Susan Birch said, are “even more savvy at social learning, learning from others, than we previously thought”. 


“They don’t just prefer to learn from anyone who is confident; they avoid learning from people who have confidently given wrong information in the past.” This ability, she continued, protects children from misinformation and ultimately ensures they are learning the most accurate information.


Despite having sophisticated reasoning abilities, young children still don’t have an adult-like understanding of what it means to be confident, or hesitant, even by eight years old.


At the ages of four and five years, children view hesitancy as something separate from confidence, rather than its opposite, Dr Birch said. Because of this lack of understanding, children view someone who is hesitant as lacking knowledge, rather than lacking confidence. 


Adults recognise responding hesitantly is justified when you don’t know the answer to something, but the children in their experiments did not recognize this.


To gather the results, researchers conducted a series of three experiments, testing 662 children aged between three and twelve years of age. The children were shown pre-recorded videos of actors displaying justified and unjustified confidence as well as justified and unjustified hesitancy and then documented who the children preferred to learn new words from and who they found smarter.


The researchers said that the children may be quicker to learn that a person’s confidence can be justified (match with their level of knowledge) than to learn that a person’s hesitancy can also be justified, because their brains are wired to attend to clues to misinformation. 


In other words, learning to trust people when they are justifiably hesitant may be harder than learning to mistrust people when they are unjustifiably confident. More research will need to be conducted to find out when children start having a better understanding of hesitancy, they added. 


As a result of this study, researchers recommend that parents and educators should not only pay attention to what they’re communicating to children but also how they’re doing it, as it may undermine their credibility in the long term.


To view the full results from the study, please see here

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