You can’t believe everything that you read

An article in the LA Times reports that the journal Cognition has a study on the credulity of children. To no one’s surprise, it turns out that kids tend to believe what they read, even when the information is false. (But, as the LA Times writer indicates, don’t adults do the same?)

In the study, graduate student Lisa Fazio and Elizabeth Marsh, professor of psychology at Duke University, tested the effects of storytelling on children ages 5 to 7. The researchers recorded different versions of several stories so that half of a set of “facts” were wrong in each tale.

Fifty-two children listened to stories over headphones while looking at illustrations. They were then asked a series of questions (such as, “what’s another word for autumn? Is it spring or fall?”). In some cases, but not all, these questions pertained to information that had come up in the stories. The results showed that children answered these questions correctly most often when they had heard a true version of the story, less often when the story hadn’t discussed the topic, and least often when it gave wrong information.

The advice of the study’s authors that “parents and teachers should use care in choosing books for their kids,” however, seems silly. Should publishers start putting warning stickers on books like Alice in Wonderland, stating that much of what is contained within is not to be taken as factual? It is probably a good thing for little kids to find out for themselves that you can’t believe everything you read; otherwise, how will they develop the necessary skepticism to combat the misinformation and lies they will confront as adults?

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