Current studies at the Centre for Early Childhood Cognition:
Cognitive control and the ability to think about others’ mental states
In one of our current studies, we are investigating the link between cognitive control and young children’s ability to think about others’ mental states. Cognitive control develops slowly during early childhood, but is important for children to be able to think about what other people know without interference from their own knowledge. In this study, we are giving young children a short cognitive control training session in which they have to do the opposite action from the experimenter (close their puppet’s mouth when the experimenter opens her puppet’s mouth). Another group of children participate in a similar training session, but this time they have to do the same as the experimenter, a task that requires less cognitive control. After the training session, all the children participate in a short game in which they have to think about what the experimenter can and cannot see and we want to know if the children who received the cognitive control training session are better able to think about what the other person can see than children who did not receive this training.
Altercentricity in infants
To navigate in the social environment, we often need to take into account what others see, know, or believe. It is a widespread view that children are ‘egocentric’, which means they prioritize their own perspective and fail to consider that someone else may have a different view; and only later in development do they ‘overcome’ this tendency.
However, a bias to focus on one’s own perspective may be disadvantageous at a very young age. In the absence of substantial knowledge about the world, it could be useful for young infants to be sensitive to- , and maybe even prioritize, other (knowledgeable) people’s perspective, and use it to acquire information.
In our lab we explore the idea that young infants may have, in fact, an ‘altercentric’ bias. This means that they might prioritize other’s knowledge and perspective, and remember better information that other people’s attention highlighted from the environment. In various studies we are looking into the interaction of the social context (e.g. the other person’s attention, perspective of beliefs) on infants’ own memory (what information they remember about their environment, e.g. objects around them).
Click here to read about the methods we use to understand early cognition.