Taking account of others’ goals in social information use: Developmental changes in 3- to 7-year-old children

Kirsten H. Blakey*, Mark Atkinson, Eva Rafetseder, Elizabeth Renner, Christine A. Caldwell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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The ability to take mental states such as goals into account when interpreting others’ behavior has been proposed to be what sets human use of social information apart from that of other animals. If so, children's social information use would be expected to change as their understanding of others’ mental states develops. We explored age-related changes in 3- to 7-year-old children's ability to strategically use social information by taking into account another's goal when it was, or was not, aligned with their own. Children observed as a puppet demonstrator selected a capsule, peeked inside, and chose to accept or reject it, following which children made their own selection. Children were able to account for others’ conflicting motivations from around 4 years of age and reliably inferred the outcome of others’ behavior from 6 years. However, using social information based on such inferences appeared to be challenging regardless of whether the demonstrator's goal was, or was not. aligned to that of the participant. We found that social information use improved with age; however, this improvement was restricted to cases in which the appropriate response was to avoid copying the demonstrator's selection. In contrast to previous research, appropriate copying responses remained at chance. Possible explanations for this unexpected pattern of results are discussed. The cognitive challenge associated with the ability to account for others’ goals could offer humans a significant advantage over that of other animals in their ability to use social information.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105325
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date9 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


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