Infants as young as 2 years expect adults to express emotions of disbelief when they realize a fallacy. The study was conducted by a team of researchers at University of California, Merced, led by professor Rose Scott.
The results of the study were published in the February edition of Cognition.
During 2 to 5years of age, children develop basic cognitive behavior such as identifying old scenarios, recalling old information, and using it in the current situation accordingly.
However, interpreting false beliefs and consequences and using them to assess certain social scenarios is quite a challenge. But surprisingly, children as young as two years show a rudimentary level of this behavior.
According to Scott’s research, in direct conflict to previous studies, children begin to develop this skill set as early as two years and not 4.
Scott believes this study could help diagnose social disorders such as austism and other mental conditions such as empathy deficit disorder. The team monitored and assessed the infants’ gaze for anything out of the ordinary. They noted that when something surprising happened the children would stare for longer.
For example, Sam plays with a toy in front of an infant and then leaves the room. Julie comes inside the same room, breaks the toy and leaves. Sam enters the room again and starts playing with the toy. The infant observing all this would stare at Sam for a longer period, showing that they have registered an emotion of surprise.
The scientists further added that infants anticipate the adult to show emotions of surprise and astonishment. Most conventional studies involve infants younger than four to answer questionnaires about their expected reactions, but children younger than four could not comprehend these thoughts and hence the questions were too complicated for them.
Scott added, “ We’ve argued that traditional tasks place too many processing demands on children. By reducing these demands, children can show their understanding of the actions of a person with a false belief, even if they can’t articulate that understanding verbally.”
Scott had conducted another study in the past which found that infants aged over 2.5 yearswere able to fully understand the concept of false beliefs.
Scott further went on to say that she wants two follow-up questions to add credibility and clarity to the findings. These questions will reveal why simpler task were easier for the children and traditional questions difficult.
The test was if there was a toy to be found in a box and if someone moved it, the children would believe that the toy was still in the box, whereas younger children would try to speak and indicated that the toy had been moved.
Development of cognitive behavior is the key to how infants act in social settings when they grow up. This act of tough love, when parent act differently in different scenarios and by giving false beliefs can prepare children better for later on in life.
The team simplified this test further to make it easier for young children to understand. Instead of using a box, the person would move the toy somewhere else completely. The result was that the 2.5 year olds were able to identify the change.
She also wants to explore how much the parents’ interaction with their children played a part in shaping up the infants’ answers, and the use of their words such as “know”, “understand” and “think” in order to make up their children’s minds and the potential impact of these words on children’s cognition and understanding skills during the early years.
Scott believes her team’s study can allow physicians and pediatricians to better understand how children interact with others to diagnose social and mental health issues such as austism and social anxiety.
Scott went on to say that difference in opinion in adults about the world and their false beliefs can have a severe impact on a child’s mental understanding and view on life. She went on to say,” Understanding that other individuals can hold and act on false beliefs about the world is an important ability that plays a central role in social interactions. This research will help shed light on what children need to learn in order to be able to use their false-belief understanding in a variety of everyday situations.”