Taking account of others' goals in social information use: Developmental changes in 3- to 7-year-old children



Blakey KH, Atkinson M, Rafetseder E, Renner E & Caldwell CA (2022) Taking account of others' goals in social information use: Developmental changes in 3- to 7-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 215, Art. No.: 105325.

The ability to take mental states such as goals into account when interpreting others’ behavior has been proposed to be what sets human use of social information apart from that of other animals. If so, children’s social information use would be expected to change as their understanding of others’ mental states develops. We explored age-related changes in 3- to 7-year-old children’s ability to strategically use social information by taking into account another’s goal when it was, or was not, aligned with their own. Children observed as a puppet demonstrator selected a capsule, peeked inside, and chose to accept or reject it, following which children made their own selection. Children were able to account for others’ conflicting motivations from around 4 years of age and reliably inferred the outcome of others’ behavior from 6 years. However, using social information based on such inferences appeared to be challenging regardless of whether the demonstrator’s goal was, or was not. aligned to that of the participant. We found that social information use improved with age; however, this improvement was restricted to cases in which the appropriate response was to avoid copying the demonstrator’s selection. In contrast to previous research, appropriate copying responses remained at chance. Possible explanations for this unexpected pattern of results are discussed. The cognitive challenge associated with the ability to account for others’ goals could offer humans a significant advantage over that of other animals in their ability to use social information.

Information use; Copying; Goals; Cognitive development; Social learning; Comparative psychology

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology: Volume 215

FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date31/03/2022
Publication date online09/12/2021
Date accepted by journal08/11/2021
PublisherElsevier BV

People (3)


Dr Kirsten Blakey

Dr Kirsten Blakey

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Philosophy

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor, Psychology

Dr Eva Rafetseder

Dr Eva Rafetseder

Senior Lecturer, Psychology

Projects (1)