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Young Children's Understanding of Changes in Their Mental States

Alison Gopnik and Virginia Slaughter
Child Development
Vol. 62, No. 1 (Feb., 1991), pp. 98-110
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1130707
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1130707
Page Count: 13
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Young Children's Understanding of Changes in Their Mental States
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Abstract

3-year-old children have difficulty reporting their past false beliefs. We investigated their ability to remember and report other types of past mental state, in particular, pretenses, images, perceptions, desires, and intentions. In a series of tasks, children were placed in one mental state, that state was changed, and they were asked to report the initial state. 4-year-olds were generally able to report all their past mental states, including beliefs. 3-year-olds were able to report past pretenses, images, and perceptions extremely well. They had great difficulty reporting past beliefs. Reporting past desires and intentions was more difficult than reporting pretenses, images, and perceptions, but slightly less difficult than reporting beliefs. The evidence suggests that 3-year-olds have difficulty understanding the nature of representation.

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