Suggestibility and Mind Training: A deeper analysis into inner workings of disinformation

dissertationHana Chae reviewing research results before the Dissertation Committee | Carlos Ricaurte, PantherNOW

Carlos Ricaurte | Contributing Writer

On November 7th, there was a doctoral dissertation carried out at FIU, aimed at understanding of the relation between theory of mind and suggestibility. 

Many topics, including due procedure, data collection, and the impact of theory of mind training on suggestibility were discussed, as Chae laid out the reasoning behind her work and what this represented for the study of developmental psychology. 

Everything from the impact of the research to the conclusions and all-around collected data was reviewed and debated by the committee of specialists, meant to review Chae´s dissertation. The dissertation covered this aforementioned procedure, in which up to 48 preschool-aged children managed to complete the whole research project, aiming to see how after receiving theory of mind training. 

The project included asking several questions to these children, with said questions being correct, plausibly misleading, implausibly misleading, and non-misleading. 

“Up to 16 questions were presented in the same order for all the participants, but the questions were randomized, the same question type was never presented back to back,” Chae explained while covering the methodology of how the questions were laid out. 

“This is with the intent of having the children retain information about a target event (a virtual live science show) given to them before and after training sessions, and then measure how susceptible they might be to misinformation when asked about the science show.”

The idea of Theory of Mind, in which a person’s mental state can be different to our own, is constantly mentioned, as it was at the front and center of Chae´s entire doctoral research. 

“Children who lack ToM skills cannot yet hold two different mental representations of an object/situation. Incapability of comparing different mental representations can lead to a higher likelihood of adopting the suggestion,” Chae said.

One of the key findings of this research was in fact that children were not susceptible to suggestions provided right after their science show when asked a free-recall question. Further, having received ToM training was not a major factor when it came to the children’s suggestibility in general.

“Additionally, children were highly suggestible when answering closed-ended questions,” said Chae. 

Despite Chae’s effort to investigate whether the lack of ToM skills seen in children would be directly related to children’s willingness to accept suggestions, Chae revealed that in her dissertation she did not find any evidence that advanced ToM skills are related to decreased suggestibility. 

However, she pointed out that her dissertation suggests that open-ended questions should be used, rather than closed-ended questions, when interviewing young children.

In many ways, this had a myriad of implications outside of developmental psychology, as the knowledge of properly being able to obtain information from children naturally spills into other areas, as seen in everything from Education to Criminal Justice. 

“The current study provides additional support that interviewers should use open-ended questions instead of closed-ended questions to obtain accurate accounts of information from children,” said Chae.

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