Development of the Child's Sense of Self

HideShow resource information

Bischof-Kohler (1988)

  • Mirror test on 16-24 month olds measuring levels of empathy when a teddy bear's arm falls off and the researcher shows sadness.
  • Levels of empathy and self-recognition were highly correlated, regardless of the child's age.
  • It was well developed by 20 months, and both (self-recognition and empathy) are needed for self-consious emotions, such as guilt, shame, embarrassment and pride.
1 of 11


Lewis and Brooks-Gun (1979)

Examined infats understanding of their own existance, focusing on the ability to recognise oneself. This is hard to test as young infants can't verbalise how they experience themselves.

A sense of self begins to appear at 18 motnhs, this is the starting point for understanding others.

These two abilities are linked and lead to the 3 principles of social awareness:

  • Knowledge abou the other person must be gained about the self as well
  • What is known about the self can be known about others (vice versa)
  • Attributes of oneself and others can be used to describe others

Supported by Bischof-Kohler (1988)

2 of 11

Social Cognition

Social cognition is how people think about others and their understanding of social relationships.

This develops extremely quickly; by 3/4 chlidren can understand other's emotions, desires and beliefs.

Harris (1989)

When a child becomes self-aware, they generalise this to others. This relies on the child being:

  • Self-aware (approx. 18 months) and capable of verbalisation (approx. 2 years)
  • Having the ability to pretend (approx. 2 years) (this is evident in play)
  • Able to separate reality from pretense (approx. 3/4 years)
3 of 11

Harris (1989)

Tested children between 4 and 6. He told them stories based on imaginary animal characters with their own particular likes and dislikes.

'Ellie the Elephant liked drinking cola and looked forward to drinking her favourite drink. Micky the Mischevious Monkey emptied the cola and refilled the can with milk. Ellie did not like milk.'

Children were asked how Ellie would feel when she was given the cola can. Younger children focused on Ellie being sad. Older children recognised that Ellie would be happy at first until she realised that her cola had been replaced with milk.

Harris said that by 6, children can take into account other's emotions based on desires. THis links in with Piaget's 3 Mountain Task as it suggests young children can not 'decentre' and are egocentric.

4 of 11

Theory of Mind

Theory of mind underpins our understanding of mental states, such as beliefs, intentions and emotions that cause actions. This allows others and ourselves to reflect on our minds. As a result of this, we can recognise that others might think differently to us. 

Testing Theory of Mind

Awareness that others have different beliefs and feelings that allow us to either emphasise or manipulate others.

Telling a lie is complex as you have to understand the mental state of the other person

Baron-Cohen (1993) suggests this happens early on and this is why children can understand deception in stories such as, Little Red Riding Hood.

By 4/5 years, children recognise that they can't always predict what others will do, just from the situation.

Autistic children seem to lack ToM (Baron-Cohen and Leslie). 

5 of 11

Baron-Cohen et al (1985)

False-Belief Task (Sally-Anne Task)

Used on 61 children in three groups: 20 autistic children, 27 neurotypical children and 14 Down Syndrome children.

86% of the Down Syndrome and 85% of the neurotypical children passed. 80% of the autistic children failed (20% passed).

Autistic children do not play with dolls so the study lacks reliability.

The variables were controlled.

The study has been replicated many times and has generated further research.

6 of 11

Sally-Anne Task (method)

The child is shown two dolls, Sally and Anne.

Sally has a basket and a marble, she puts the marble in the basket and goes out to play. 

Anne takes the marble out the basket and it puts it into her box.

The child is asked where Sally will look for her marble when she returns.The correct answer is in the basket.

There are two questions to ensure that the child understands the task:

  • Where is the marble now?
  • Where was the marble in the first place.
7 of 11

Perner et al (1989)

False-Belief Task (Smartie Task)

Children are shown a smartie tube and asked what is inside. The child will answer with 'smarties'. The child is then shown the inside of the tube and it contains pencils. The two control questions are:

  • What is in the tube now?
  • What did you think was in the tube when I first showed you it?

The child is then told that their friend is going to come and look at the tube next. They are asked what their friend will say is in the tube; the correct answer is pencils.

8 of 11

Evaluation of Theory of Mind (1)

Use of false belief tasks suggest that children understand ToM at about 3 years, but other researchers have suggested this does not develop until much later.

Carpendale and Chandler (1996)

Showed children aged 5 and 8 an ambigious drawing of a rabbit face or a duck face and asked the children what 'Anne' would see. They either answered 'rabbit', 'duck' or 'I don't know'. WHen asked why 'Anne' would see this, they couldn't explain their reasoning until they were older. 

Are false-belief tasks a valid method of testing ToM as the require the child to reason about a fake belief.

Bloom and German (2000)

These tasks should be abandoned as they require skills other than ToM and ToM may not need an ability to reason with self-belief to be real. 

9 of 11

Evaluation of Theory of Mind (2)

Performance on false-belief tasks may differ based on behaviours and emotions. It may be difficult for children to comeplete/show the success they had within the tasks in real life situations. Not only this, but emotional reasoning (Ellie the Elephant) may develop slower than behaviour reasoning (Sally-Anne task).

How good are children at understanding deception?

Peskin (1992)

3-5 year olds were tested on their ability to decieve puppets into choosing a sticker they didn't want. Children were shown 4 stickers and told they could pick one, but not until the two puppets (one nice and one mean) had chosen. They children were asked which sticker they wanted and then the puppets chose theirs. The test was repeated four times and each time the mean puppet would choose the sticker the child had said they wanted. 

After the first trial, most 5 year olds pointed to a sticker they didn't really want to decieve the puppet. 4 year olds took slightly longer but were able to decieve the puppet by the end of the trial. 3 year olds were always dismayed when the puppet stole their sticker.

10 of 11

Evaluation of Theory of Mind (3)

Wellman suggested a different theory of how ToM develops.

He suggested that children's understanding of self and others develops in 3 stages:

  • 2 year olds understand others through their own beliefs 
  • 3 year olds understand others' beliefs about the world
  • By 4, children recognise their own behaviour can be different to anothers.

Wellman et al (2001)

Did a meta analysis of 187 studies and found ToM develops during pre-school years. It is not an effect of the task used, such as practice effects.

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Cognition and Development resources »