Kids Trust Written Words More Than Spoken Ones

Learning to read seems to make information conveyed in written form seem more authoritative

Photo: 3photo/Corbis

Although it's clear that we shouldn't believe everything that's written on the internet, people do tend to put more trust in written words than in spoken ones—even if the source of a piece of writing is dubious. According to new research, this trust in the printed word seems to originate very early in life, probably as soon as we are taught to read. As soon as kids acquire a basic understanding of letters and reading, the research team found, they exhibit a greater trust in printed textual information than in oral or visual information. 

To arrive at these findings, the researchers recruited children who either had just learned to read or had not begun yet. They presented the kids with a game of chance: Two tubes connected into a single funnel, but only one of those tubes was open. The kids were given marbles, and if they corretly guessed which tube was opened and rolled a marble down that one, they received a sticker. 

To mix things up, two puppets were present at the scene of the game. One puppet told the kids to pick the blue tube. The other puppet opened up an envelope with printed instructions inside and told the kids that the instructions said to pick the red tube. The researchers found that kids who hadn't yet learned to read were just as likely to pick the blue tube over the red tube, but that 75 percent of children who had some training in reading chose the red tube.

In other tests, kids who could read still picked written words over printed shapes, showing a preference for printed words themselves rather than just printed material. The team concludes that something about the act of learning to read causes children to "rapidly come to regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information about how to act in the world," although why that is so is still unknown.   

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