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Taking Decisions Seriously: Young Children's Understanding of Conventional Truth

Charles Kalish, Michelle Weissman and Debra Bernstein
Child Development
Vol. 71, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2000), pp. 1289-1308
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131975
Page Count: 20
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Taking Decisions Seriously: Young Children's Understanding of Conventional Truth
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Abstract

Research suggests that young children may see a direct and one-way connection between facts about the world and epistemic mental states (e. g., belief). Conventions represent instances of active constructions of the mind that change facts about the world. As such, a mature understanding of convention would seem to present a strong challenge to children's simplified notions of epistemic relations. Three experiments assessed young children's abilities to track behavioral, representational, and truth aspects of conventions. In Experiment 1, 3- and 4-year-old children (N = 30) recognized that conventional stipulations would change people's behaviors. However, participants generally failed to understand how stipulations might affect representations. In Experiment 2, 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old children (N = 53) were asked to reason about the truth values of statements about pretenses and conventions. The two younger groups of children often confused the two types of states, whereas older children consistently judged that conventions, but not pretenses, changed reality. In Experiment 3, the same 3- and 5-year-olds (N = 42) participated in tasks assessing their understanding of representational diversity (e. g., false belief). In general, children's performance on false-belief and "false-convention" tasks did not differ, which suggests that conventions were understood as involving truth claims (as akin to beliefs about physical reality). Children's difficulties with the idea of conventional truth seems consistent with current accounts of developing theories of mind.

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