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When Seeing Is Not Believing: Children's Understanding of Humans' and Non-Humans' Use of Background Knowledge in Interpreting Visual Displays

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To explore 3- to 7-year-old children's developing understanding of human and non-human minds, a battery of "background knowledge" tasks was administered to 51 American children. The children were asked to speculate about how three other intentional agents (mother, dog, and God) would understand various visual displays. First, children answered when they themselves did not understand the displays, then they answered after they had been given information necessary to understand the displays. Results revealed that children begin to understand the role of background knowledge around the same age that they pass false-belief tasks; and that before thoroughly understanding the role of background knowledge they already begin to discriminate between different types of minds. By age four, children began to show some understanding that because of having different minds than people, God is more able and dogs are less able to understand some visual displays even with full visual access.


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