How do children weigh competence and benevolence when deciding whom to trust?

Angie M. Johnston, Candice M. Mills, Asheley R. Landrum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


In three experiments, we investigate how 187 3- to 5-year-olds weigh competence and benevolence when deciding whom to trust. Children were presented with two informants who provided conflicting labels for novel objects - one informant was competent, but mean, the other incompetent, but nice. Across experiments, we manipulated the order in which competence and benevolence were presented and the way in which they were described (via trait labels or descriptions of prior behavior). When competence was described via prior behavior (Experiments 1-2), children endorsed the informants' labels equally. In contrast, when competence was described via trait labels (Experiment 3), children endorsed labels provided by the competent, mean informant. When considering children's endorsement at the individual level, we found their ability to evaluate competence, not benevolence, related to their endorsements. These findings emphasize the importance of considering how children process information about informants and use this information to determine whom to trust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-90
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Epistemology
  • Order effects
  • Preschool-aged children
  • Source reliability
  • Trait labels
  • Trust


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