P5: Developmental Psychology, University of Neuchâtel


Developmental studies on metacognition and Theory of Mind offer evidence of normative awareness in children (see for instance Schneider, 2008). Around the age of four, children begin to explicitly distinguish between beliefs and reality, and understand how perception and communication lead to knowledge (Gopnik, 1993). Children's verbal reports, and adults' categorizations, however, can either genuinely express subjects' sensitivity to a norm, or be cued by associations and irrelevant affective reactions (Sodian, 2005).

In recent years, great progress has been made in investigating infants' preverbal sensitivity to others’ epistemic states (see for instance Baillargeon et al., 2010). Infants in the second year of life are remarkably sensitive to others’ perceptual and communicative access to information, and can infer action outcomes based on informational access. To date, however, very little research has investigated metacognitive awareness per se in infants and young children. One study demonstrated sensitivity to perceptual access in the search behaviors of children aged 2 years and 5 months (Sodian et al., 2006).

Other studies in 2 to 3-year-old children have assessed for instance conventional application of rules in games (Rakoczy et al., 2008) and epistemic appraisals of other's beliefs or one's own (Perner, 1991).

Epistemic vigilance, i.e. the ability to discriminate reliable from unreliable informers has been studied in 3 and 4-year-old children (Mascaro & Sperber, 2009). Evidence shows that 4-year-olds are able to ignore other’s testimony when it conflicts with their own perception (Clément et al., 2004). These studies, however, do not conclusively establish that truth is the epistemic norm at play in a given task.

In our part of the project, the three following questions will be investigated to test the sensitivity to epistemic norms in young children:


  • How does epistemic norm sensitivity develop?

Here several experiments will be conducted to investigate the sensitivity to perceptual fluency in 3 and 4-year-old children.

  • How is norm dominance secured in a given context? Is normative conflict influenced by culture?

A testimony paradigm will be used to assess how 3 and 4-year-old children select one among two competing epistemic norms.

  • Is epistemic norm sensitivity to one's own mental agency always transferable to assessment of others', and reciprocally?

We will study here the sensitivity of 3-year-old children to cues of epistemic certainty exhibited by others, before or after having individually assessed their own uncertainty.