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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Is children's norm learning rational? A meta-analysis


A good deal of recent research has examined children’s norm learning across a wide range of novel contexts. The typical interpretation of these findings is that children’s norm learning is driven by group-based biases. In this paper, we present an alternative interpretation and corresponding meta-analyses that cast the current body of evidence in a rather different light. First, we argue the extant literature uses an ill-suited standard for assessing bias. Rather than comparing children’s judgments to what is expected under random chance (a ‘random standard’), bias is better assessed by comparing children’s judgments to what is most probable, given their total evidence (an ‘evidential standard’). Next, we report a meta-analysis of the known findings to date (k = 40 effect sizes; N = 1,369 in total; ages 4- to 13-years-old) to compare children’s norm learning against an appropriate evidential standard. Meta-analytic estimates reveal that children’s norm learning is not restrictively biased toward narrow-scope inferences on account of group-based factors. Rather, the findings to date are consistent with children’s norm learning being rational (i.e., statistically appropriate, given their evidence) or even inclusively biased toward making the wide-scope inference that a novel norm applies to everyone in a population. We conclude with brief discussion of implications for current understanding and future research on norm acquisition.

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