Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Research by Repacholi and Gopnik (1997) and others suggests that children assign desires either by using their own preferences and failing to take information about the other person’s preference into account (egocentrically) or by using information about the other person’s preference, even when it conflicts with their own preferences (subjectively). Younger children respond egocentrically and older children, subjectively. However, Terwogt and Rieffe (2003) argue a third possibility, that younger children in fact assign desires according to what the child believes most people like (normative preferences). In Study 1, we investigated actual preferences as well as beliefs about normative preferences in a group of 82 preschool children regarding food and gendered objects, using a sorting task. We examined the accuracy of their beliefs by comparing them with the actual preferences of our sample. We found that children demonstrated accurate beliefs about what lots of kids their age like and dislike, i.e., demonstrated understanding of normative preferences, and that accuracy increased with age. For our second study, we investigated whether children use normative preferences to predict the desires of others. This task involved the use of stories and paper doll protagonists. We found that our sample consistently disregarded their understanding of normative preferences (as well as their own preferences) and instead based predictions on subjective desire understanding, i.e. based on the preferences expressed by the protagonist. This finding contradicts Martin’s (1989) study that showed that 3 ó to 6-year-olds use gender stereo type information to predict the preferences of a protagonist, as opposed to individuating information about preferences, and only 6-year-olds and above take into account both gender stereotype information and the personal preferences of the protagonist. This finding also contradicts Terwogt and Rieffe’s (2003) study that showed that children ignored information about the protagonist’s individual desires and instead used understanding of normative preferences to select a gender-stereotypical toy for the protagonist. Most importantly, we find that young children demonstrate sophisticated desire-based reasoning. They are able to override both gender stereotype information/normative preference information as well as their own preferences in order to correctly predict emotional outcome based on desire fulfillment in another individual.


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