Even babies as young as a year-and-a-half can guess what other people are thinking, new research suggests.
The results, published today (Jan. 29) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: B, come from a study of children spanning the globe, from rural China to the more remote islands of Fiji. Previously, scientists thought this ability to understand other people’s perspectives emerged much later in children.
The findings may shed light on the social abilities that differentiate us from our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, said study author H. Clark Barrett, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study used a form of the false-belief test, one of the few cognitive tasks that young children, but not primates, can do.
Humans are “very good at inferring other people’s mental states: their emotions, their desires and, in this case, their knowledge,” Barrett said. “So it could play an important role in cultural transmission and social learning.”
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