Infants' and toddlers' reasoning about others: Connections to prosocial development and language
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CitationHobbs, Kathryn Virginia. 2014. Infants' and toddlers' reasoning about others: Connections to prosocial development and language. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractOften overlooked in the study of theory of mind (ToM) development, the understanding of motivational states, such as goals and desires, is both an important capacity in its own right and also a likely precursor to more advanced social and cognitive skills. This dissertation explored infants' and toddlers' reasoning about agents' motivational states, linking those representations to the domains of language and prosocial development.
Parts I and II of the dissertation asked about toddlers' abilities to use representations of others' motivational states to guide helping behaviors. Part I used a spontaneous helping paradigm with two goal objects, one previously liked and the other disliked. Three- but not 2-year-olds helped appropriately by giving an actor her desired object, reflecting prosocial concern for others' specific desires at age 3. Part II probed the understanding of goals and helping of 14- and 24-month-olds. After establishing that toddlers encode simple reaching actions as goal-directed, a series of 4 experiments using an object-giving paradigm investigated toddlers' abilities to use goal representations to guide helping. The results indicate that 24- but not 14-month-olds used representations of prior goals to inform their helping behaviors; 14-month-olds were capable of using only current goals to guide helping.
Part III of the dissertation asked whether there is continuity in the developmental relationship between language and ToM by investigating links between toddlers' understanding of motivational states and their vocabulary size. Experiment 1 found no correlation between the vocabulary size of typically hearing toddlers and their performance on tasks measuring motivational state understanding. Experiment 2 compared the same motivational state understanding of typically hearing toddlers and deaf toddlers with smaller vocabularies, finding no differences in performance between groups. The results of these experiments indicate that the link between language and false belief that is present at age 4 does not extend to motivational state reasoning in the toddler years.
Together the findings of this dissertation highlight important limits and boundary conditions on young children's reasoning about motivational states. Further research is needed into the developmental trajectory and mechanisms of theory of mind reasoning.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13065030