Young children below the age of 11 have their thoughts mostly grounded in concrete reality, being unable to think their way through problems that require them to do things that they can’t see. They’re not very good at abstract reasoning.
When psychologist Rudolph Schaffer asked nine-year-olds where they would place a third eye, all of them said their forehead, a pretty pointless spot, as you already have two eyes facing in that direction. However, 11-year-olds suggested places such as their hands so that they could see around corners. The younger children couldn’t think of this.
Most young children draw much worse than adults, which, of course, isn’t their fault; they simply aren’t able to control their hands accurately enough to draw smoothly. But that is not all; developmental psychologists N.H. Freeman and R. Janikoun placed a cup in front of children between the ages of five and nine that the child knew had a handle. The cup was positioned so that they could not see the handle, however, and the kids were asked to draw exactly what they saw.
Strangely, children between the ages of five and seven drew the handle even though they couldn’t see it, but children older than that didn’t draw the handle. This is quite a difference between children and adults. If an adult is asked to draw exactly what they see, they’ll obviously not draw the handle, but children draw it because they know it should be there.
You (hopefully) have quite well-developed morals, where you understand the importance of doing things with good intentions, to follow the law, and so forth. Perhaps you even understand that sometimes, rules should be broken. A child’s moral reasoning, however, is not this complex. In fact, for the youngest children, its believed that their moral beliefs are based simply on avoiding punishment. Their reasoning then develops into knowing that the right way to behave is what is rewarded, until eventually it becomes the moral reasoning that most adults have.
Theory of mind is the understanding that others think differently than you and that not everyone knows what you know. Younger children do not realize this, however, thinking that anything that they know, everybody knows. This has been tested by a group of people, one of whom was Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen, famous actor and comedian). He developed something known as the Sally Anne task.
Simply put, in this experiment, someone leaves a room a child is watching, at which point another person in the room hides a toy in full view of the child. The child is then asked where they think the person who left the room would look for the toy.
If you attach a young infant’s leg to a baby mobile via a string, it will very quickly learn that it can kick its leg to make the mobile move. The baby will remember the that they can do this if placed in the same crib at a later date. Nothing special about that.
What is interesting, though, is that even the slightest change to the crib the baby is placed in will make it forget they can make the mobile move, even something as simple as putting a different-colored blanket on the side of the crib. This is because an infant does not have the ability to generalize their interactions with the world, so they only remember how to make the mobile move if the conditions are the same.
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