The development of the child's theory of mind
When trying to explain and predict a person's behavior, we typically refer to concepts such as the person's beliefs, hopes and desires. Philosophers and psychologists have termed a person's use of mental states to predict and explain another's behavior as a naive psychology or a theory of mind. While most researchers agree that preschool children as well as adults exhibit a theory of mind, it has been argued that young children have a fundamentally different understanding of the mind of others than do adults. This dissertation investigates the development of the ability of young children to accurately attribute mental states to others and use these mental states to predict their behavior.^ This work demonstrates that children's theory of mind is at the core, very close to the adult theory. The first experiment demonstrates that, like adults, children show consistency between the beliefs and knowledge that they attribute to others; the mental states that children attribute are consistent with one another. The second study goes further to show that children can in fact reason about the mental states of others in a similar fashion to adults, under the right conditions. Moreover, the third experiment reconciles the general conclusion that children's theory of mind closely parallels that of the adults with young children's poor performance on typical measures of theory of mind. Specifically, it appears that, when predicting another's behavior, young children employ certain heuristics which, although generally reliable, cause the children to make mistakes under some circumstances.^ This work demonstrates that current tests of theory of mind may underestimate the capabilities of the young child. Further, this research both identifies some ways in which the child uses her theory and enlightens us about the properties of the theory itself. ^
Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Experimental
Kimberly Elaine Wright Cassidy,
"The development of the child's theory of mind"
(January 1, 1993).
Dissertations available from ProQuest.