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Cross-Cultural Variations in Naïve Psychology among 2-year-olds: A Comparison of Children in the United Kingdom and Singapore

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Children’s understanding of naïve psychology is the main focus of this study. Research evidence suggests that 2- and 3-year-olds understand some aspects of naïve psychology. By 4 years, they develop internal representations of mental states. Previous studies have also reported cross-cultural variations in naïve psychology development. The majority of this research has focused on Western individualistic societies such as Australia, Europe and North America, and Eastern collectivism societies such as China and Japan. Singapore with its blend of Eastern and Western values represents a unique case for comparison with Western societies. This paper reports a cross-cultural study of young children’s developing understanding of naïve psychology in Edinburgh, UK and Singapore. It addresses three main questions: (a) Are there cross-cultural differences in the development of naïve psychology?; (b) What are children’s performance sequences on naïve psychology tasks?; and (c) Are naïve psychology concepts coherent? The participants were 87 children from the UK (n=43, mean age 2 years 4 months) and Singapore (n=44, mean age 2 years 5 months). This study incorporated several established tasks of pretence, desires, emotions, perceptions, appearance-reality and false-beliefs to investigate children’s understanding of non-representational and representational mental states. The results showed no gross cross-cultural differences. However, significant cultural differences in performance on two tasks and differences in the coherence of naïve psychology concepts were identified. The results highlight the importance of considering subtle cultural influences on children’s developing understanding of various aspects of naïve psychology.

Affiliations: 1: Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh St John’s Land Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ UK, Email:; 2: Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh St John’s Land Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ UK; 3: School of Health and Social Sciences, Middlesex University London UK


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