When Babies Develop a Theory of Mind

By the time babies are about one-and-a-half yearsrs old, they start to understand the nature of these differences between people and to be fascinated by them. Again we can demonstrate this systematically. Alison and one of her students, Betty Repacholi, showed babies two bowls of food, one full of delicious Goldfish crackers and one full of raw broccoli. All the babies, even in Berkeley, preferred the crackers. Then Betty tasted each bowl of food. She made a delighted face and said. 'Yum," to one food and made a disgusted face and said. ''Yuck," to the other. Then she put both bowls of food near the babies, held out her hand, and said, "Could you give me some?"

When Betty indicated that she loved the crackers and hated the broccoli, the babies, of course, gave her the crackers. But what if she did the opposite and said that the broccoli was yummy and the crackers were yucky? This presented the babies with one of those cases where our attitude toward the object is different from theirs, where we want one thing and they want something else. Fourteen-month-olds, still with their innocent assumption that we all want the same thing, give us the crackers. But the wiser (though, as we will see, sadder) eighteen-month-olds give us the broccoli, even though they themselves despise it. These tiny children, barely able to talk. have already learned an extremely important thing about peopie. They've learned that people have desires and that those desires may be different and may even conflict.

We can demonstrate this discovery in the laboratory, but it is also dramatically apparent in ordinary life. Parents all know. and dread, the notorious "terrible twos," when the adorable if somewhat out-of-hand one-year-old rogue becomes a steely-eyed two-year-old monster out of melodrama. What makes the terrible twos so terrible is not that the babies do things you don't want them to do—one-year-olds are plenty good at that—but that they do things because yon don't want them to. While one-year-olds seem irresistibly seduced by the charms of forbidden objects (the lamp cord made me do it), the two-year-olds are deliberately perverse, what the British call bloody-minded. A two-year-old doesn't even look at the lamp cord. Instead his hand goes out to touch it as he looks. steadily, gravely, and with great deliberation, at you.


But this perverse behavior actually turns out to be quite rational. Just as experiments with very young babies explain our parental intuition that we have a special kind of rapport with our newborns, experiments with toddlers explain our intuition that that rapport sometimes breaks down when they get older. Two-year-olds have just begun to realize that people have different desires. Our broccoli experiment shows ths childreren oDnly begin to understand differences in desires when they are about eighteen months old. Fourteen-month-olds seem to think that their desires and ours will be the same. The terrible twos seem to involve a systematic exploration of that idea, almost a kind of experimental research program. Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict. The grave look is directed at you because you and your reaction, rather than the lamp cord itself, are the really interesting thing. If the child is a budding psychologist, we parents are the laboratory rats.

It may be some comfort to know that these toddlers don't really want to drive us crazy, they just want to understand how>w we work. The tears that follow the blowup at the end of a terrible-twos confrontation are genuine. The terrible twos refleets a genuine clash between children's need to understand other people and their need to live happily with them. Experimenting with conflict may be necessary if you want to understand what people will do, but it's also dangerous. The terrible twos show how powerful and deep-seated the learning drive is in these young children. With these two-year-olds, as with scientists, finding the truth is more than a profession— it's a passion. And, as with scientists, that passion may sometimes make them sacrifice domestic happiness.


The "terrible twos" is a period of conflict because the infant is developing a theory of mind and they are learning that other people do not share the same likes and dislikes as themselves; therefore, they test these differences.

Folksonomies: learning development infants theory of mind

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 The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Gopnik , Meltzoff , Kuhl (2001-01-01), The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, Harper Paperbacks, Retrieved on 2011-07-06
Folksonomies: education parenting pregnancy babies children infancy


14 JUN 2011

 Raising Well-Adjusted Children

Memes on parenting and activities to encourage intelligence and good behavior in children.
Folksonomies: parenting child rearing
Folksonomies: parenting child rearing