Toddlers are capable of introspection

Aug 14, 2007

Preschoolers are more introspective than we give them credit for, according to new research by Simona Ghetti, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis.

Ghetti and her co-investigator, Kristen Lyons, a graduate student in psychology at UC Davis, will present their findings Friday morning, Aug. 17, at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.

Scientists have demonstrated that dolphins, monkeys and even rats can engage in some form of "metacognition," or an awareness of their own thought processes. But developmental psychologists have assumed that human children do not develop this capability before about age 5.

Lyons and Ghetti have toppled that assumption by teaching 3- and 4-year-olds to communicate their awareness of their thought processes using pictures rather than words.

"We've shown that even very young children can think about their thinking," Ghetti said. "The reason we haven't appreciated it before now is that the studies that have been used to test for it have been too verbally demanding."

The UC Davis researchers devised a novel method to investigate metacognition in early childhood. They taught their preschool subjects to point to a photo of a confident-looking face when they felt confident they had the right answer to a question, and to a photo of a doubtful-looking child when they were not confident they had the right answer.

The tests showed that young children are aware of their uncertainty in the moment. Even 3-year-olds pointed to the confident face when they correctly identified, for example, a drawing of a monkey that had some features removed to make it harder to recognize. They pointed to the doubtful face if they could not come up with a correct answer.

"Even 3-year-olds are more confident when they're right than when they're wrong," Ghetti said.

How children develop the ability to experience, recognize and understand their thoughts and emotions is a topic of increasing scientific interest, since self-awareness is a prerequisite for the development of a wide range of important human traits, from a conscience to healthy relationships.

Source: UC Davis

Explore further: New research shows lack of motivation affects cognitive performance in schizophrenia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scalping can raise ticket prices

1 hour ago

Scalping gets a bad rap. For years, artists and concert promoters have stigmatized ticket resale as a practice that unfairly hurts their own sales and forces fans to pay exorbitant prices for tickets to sold-out concerts. ...

Tropical Storm Genevieve forms in Eastern Pacific

3 hours ago

The seventh tropical depression of the Eastern Pacific Ocean formed and quickly ramped up to a tropical storm named "Genevieve." NOAA's GOES-West satellite captured an infrared image of the newborn storm ...

Recommended for you

Giving emotions to virtual characters

6 hours ago

Researchers at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM) were able to simulate human facial expressions in virtual characters and use them in order to create better environments within a virtual ...

Emotion-tracking software aims for "mood-aware" internet

7 hours ago

Emotions can be powerful for individuals. But they're also powerful tools for content creators, such as advertisers, marketers, and filmmakers. By tracking people's negative or positive feelings toward ads—via ...

The emotional appeal of stand-up comedy

7 hours ago

Comics taking to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe this week should take note: how much of a hit they are with their audiences won't be down to just their jokes. As Dr Tim Miles from the University of Surrey has discovered, ...

User comments : 0