Collective Reasoning and Rationality in Early Childhood
TWCF Number
Project Duration
September 1 / 2023
- August 31 / 2026
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
Amount Awarded

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Bahar Koymen
Institution University of Manchester

Although the traditional accounts view reasoning as an individual skill, recent accounts emphasize its social dimension, namely how collectives make inferences to reach joint rational decisions that maximize individual and collective outcomes. Studying young children could provide an important test case for this claim, as young children often rely on others to learn about the world and improve their social and cognitive skills through social interaction. 

A project directed by Bahar Köymen at The University of Manchester explores the capacity of 3-7 year-olds to potentially persuade their peers in the context of a jointly-faced task, allowing the collective to come to a more optimal outcome than would an individual.

The proposed set of studies plans to investigate how children of these ages collectively reason on various verbal and nonverbal tasks. The team will ask whether: 1) children reach more rational decisions when reasoning in groups than individually, and what characteristics of collective reasoning contribute to more rational outcomes; 2) collective reasoning improves children’s subsequent individual reasoning beyond what an equivalent time practicing individually can.

Six studies will test different aspects of collective reasoning in young children:

  • Study 1 will investigate whether having a joint goal impacts 3-year-olds’ collective and individual reasoning on a nonverbal task.
  • Study 2 will investigate whether 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children engage in “deliberate exploration” (i.e., their beliefs are called into question by different sources.)
  • Study 3 will investigate whether 5- and 7-year-old children’s reasoning will be less likely to be influenced by decoys during collective reasoning.
  • Study 4 will be a comprehensive training study which aims to identify some key parameters of collective reasoning, such as the partner and the domain, that might contribute to young children’s reasoning.
  • Study 5 will compare Turkish-speaking and English-speaking 4- and 5-year-olds’ collective reasoning with different partners (a peer, a parent, or no partner) solving epistemic problems, as in Study 4.
  • With 5- to 7-year-old children, Study 6 will investigate the effect of collective reasoning on a different, more complicated kind of reasoning task: logical syllogisms.
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