Young children's conceptualization of pretense: action or mental representational state?


A growing body of research indicates that children do not understand mental representation until around age 4. However, children engage in pretend play by age 2, and pretending seems to require understanding mental representation. This apparent contradiction has been reconciled by the claim that in pretense there is precocious understanding of mental representation. 4 studies tested this claim by presenting children with protagonists who were not mentally representing something (i.e., an animal), either because they did not know about the animal or simply because they were not thinking about being the animal. However, the protagonists were acting in ways that could be consistent with pretending to be that animal. Children were then asked whether the protagonists were pretending to be that animal, and children tended to answer in the affirmative. The results suggest that 4-year-olds do not understand that pretending requires mental representation. Children appear to misconstrue pretense as its common external manifestations, such as actions, until at least the sixth year.

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@article{Lillard1993YoungCC, title={Young children's conceptualization of pretense: action or mental representational state?}, author={Angeline S Lillard}, journal={Child development}, year={1993}, volume={64 2}, pages={372-86} }