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What pretend play tells us about social cognition

The ability to adopt another person’s perspective is important for social cognition and, consequently, for human coexistence. But at what point during child development are we able to do this? Dr. Julia Wolf from the Institute for Philosophy II of Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, examines whether pretend play provides an indication of the ability to attribute mental states to other people. According to her thesis, even two-year-olds can pretend to drink tea and thus adopt a perspective that doesn’t reflect reality. But only later are children able to attribute a perspective to others that they don’t share. Julia Wolf published her work in the journal “Synthese” of 14. December 2022.

Photo by Naomi Shi on Pexels.com

Every day we adopt the perspective of other people in order to understand their behaviour: Let’s say Sarah went to the kitchen. I recognize that she did so because she wanted to get coffee and believes that there’s coffee in the kitchen. “The important thing is that this also applies when I myself don’t want coffee, or when I know that in fact the coffee has run out and therefore it won’t be possible to get any in the kitchen,” explains Julia Wolf. “In other words, in order to understand others, it’s important to be able to adopt their perspective, even if it differs from your own.” The ability to do this is a key milestone in the development of social cognition. Evidence suggests that this ability usually develops around the age of four.


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