Preschoolers' Attributions of Mental States in Pretense

Academic Article


  • When young children appear to recognize that someone else is engaging in make-believe play, do they infer what the pretender is thinking? Are they aware that the pretender is thinking about a pretend scenario yet knows what the real situation is? Preschoolers ages 3-5 (N = 45) viewed scenes from the Barney & Friends television series depicting either make-believe or realistic actions. Children were questioned concerning the presence of pretense and the thoughts and beliefs of the TV characters. The children were also presented with false belief and appearance/reality theory of mind tasks. Children who identified when TV characters were engaging in pretend play did not necessarily infer the pretenders' thoughts and beliefs. Inferring pretenders' thoughts was related to performance on false belief and appearance /reality tasks, but simply recognizing pretense was not. These data support the view that children initially learn to recognize pretense from contextual cues and are able to infer pretenders' beliefs only with further development of metarepresentational ability.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Child Development  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rosen CS; Schwebel DC; Singer JL
  • Start Page

  • 1133
  • End Page

  • 1142
  • Volume

  • 68
  • Issue

  • 6