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Title: The malleability of the developing representational mind
Author: Steverson, E. J.
Awarding Body: University College of Swansea
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 1995
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Three-year-olds have difficulty acknowledging both 'own' and 'other' false-beliefs (e.g., Gopnik & Astington, 1988). Arguably this reflects a failure to understand the representational (e.g., Perner, 1991). According to Perner, understanding of false-belief is only possible following permanent cognitive restructuring occurring at around age-four. However, Perner does not allow for either (i) early facilitation, or (ii) later impairment of false-belief acknowledgement. This thesis challenges the presumption that false-belief understanding is permanently 'set' at age-four and discusses the malleability of representational understanding. Experiments One-to Six probed early competence using a novel, 'deceptive box-suggestion' procedure. Responses to a true-suggestion were contrasted with responses to both an irrelevant suggestion and a standard test question. Of those children who failed a standard test question, most accepted the true-suggestion, whilst rejecting the irrelevant suggestion, even when the irrelevant suggestion had context-relevance. The response pattern persisted even when the true-suggestion addressed VERBAL misrepresentation ('... you TOLD me ...'), or MENTAL misrepresentation ('... you THOUGHT...'), and whether is was STRONGLY ('... you thought DIDN'T YOU'!), or MILDLY ('... did you think...'?) emphasised. Experiments Seven-to-Nine also prompted early false-belief understanding by enhancing task-relevance. As before, a relevance enhanced, IRRELEVANT suggestion was not accepted. Experiments Ten-to-Fourteen attempted to impair, rather than facilitate performance. Previously competent children accepted a reality-suggestion. As before, few children accepted the irrelevant suggestion, even when context-relevant. Superficial reasons for this response pattern were also investigated (e.g., suggestion strength, 'face-saving' or repeated questioning). It seems unlikely that these factors can explain children's responses.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available