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Children's Developing Understanding of Mental Verbs: Remember, Know, and Guess

Carl Nils Johnson and Henry M. Wellman
Child Development
Vol. 51, No. 4 (Dec., 1980), pp. 1095-1102
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1129549
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1129549
Page Count: 8
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Children's Developing Understanding of Mental Verbs: Remember, Know, and Guess
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Abstract

Preschool children have traditionally been noted for their ignorance of internal mental events. Consistent with this view, recent studies have found young children to judge mental verbs mistakenly on the basis of external states. The present research examined 2 components of children's developing understanding of mental verbs. First, it was hypothesized that children's ability to distinguish mental from external states would be enhanced under conditions where a subject's directly experienced mental state (i. e., an expectancy or belief) contrasts with external conditions. Second, conditions were designed to examine children's understanding of the different cognitive implications of the mental verbs remember, know, and guess; namely, that remember entails specific prior knowledge, know requires some evidential basis, and guess is distinguished by the absence of such a basis. Results confirmed that young children could differentiate internal from external states under the hypothesized conditions. Preschoolers in this case interpreted the mental verbs with respect to their mental state in contrast to external state. These children were nonetheless ignorant of definitive distinctions between the mental verbs, completely confusing cases of remembering, knowing, and guessing. Evidence is reviewed which indicates that acquisition proceeds from an early sense of distinctive uses of the verbs to later understanding of their definitive descriptions of mental states.

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