Publications of Sperber, D

Epistemic vigilance

Humans massively depend on communication with others, but this leaves them open to the risk of being accidentally or intentionally misinformed. To ensure that, despite this risk, communication remains advantageous, humans have, we claim, a suite of cognitive mechanisms for epistemic vigilance. Here we outline this claim and consider some of the ways in which epistemic vigilance works in mental and social life by surveying issues, research and theories in different domains of philosophy, linguistics, cognitive psychology and the social sciences.

The moral, epistemic and mindreading components of children’s vigilance towards deception

Vigilance towards deception is investigated in 3- to-5-year-old children: (i) In Study 1, children as young as 3 years of age prefer the testimony of a benevolent rather than of a malevolent communicator. (ii) In Study 2, only at the age of four do children show understanding of the falsity of a lie uttered by a communicator described as a liar. (iii) In Study 3, the ability to recognize a lie when the communicator is described as intending to deceive the child emerges around four and improves throughout the fifth and sixth year of life. On the basis of this evidence, we suggest that preference for the testimony of a benevolent communicator, understanding of the epistemic aspects of deception, and understanding of its intentional aspects are three functionally and developmentally distinct components of epistemic vigilance.