Young children's appreciation of the mental impact of their communicative signals

Helen I. Shwe, Ellen M. Markman
1997 Developmental Psychology  
This work addresses whether 30-month-olds appreciate that their communicative signals are being understood (or not) by another person. Infants produce a range of behaviors, such as repairing their failed signals, that have been construed as evidence that they have an implicit theory of mind. Such behavior could be interpreted as attempts to obtain some desired goal rather than as attempts to gain listener understanding. This study was designed to separate listener comprehension from obtaining a
more » ... material goal. In 4 conditions, children either did or did not get what they wanted and the experimenter understood or misunderstood their request. As predicted, children clarified their signal more when the experimenter misunderstood compared to when she understood. Regardless of whether young children achieved their overt goal, they engaged in behaviors to ensure their communicative act had been understood. Adults understand that one important function of language is to influence the thoughts, desires, intentions, and beliefs of others. They are aware that their communicative signals have an impact on their listener's mind. With respect to development, some authors argue that young children's communicative acts indicate that they too appreciate the mental impact of their signals, whereas others interpret these behaviors as only persistent efforts to achieve a material goal. Existing studies do not convincingly resolve this issue. The present work attempted to clarify whether young children (30-month-olds) recognize that their signals can affect the mental states of others. on infants' early communicative abilities suggests that infants understand that others' attentional cues provide necessary information about the intended referent of a novel word. For example, Baldwin presented young infants with a scenario in which they could potentially map a novel label to the wrong referent--this might occur when an adult utters a novel object label at a time when the infant is looking at something other than the correct object. She found that infants ( 16 months and up) had the ability to gather information about a speaker's focus of attention and thus avoided mapping errors. Moreover, by around 2 years of
doi:10.1037//0012-1649.33.4.630 pmid:9232378 fatcat:k3ynyqkfj5dlzfg72x4xgbpo64