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The Plot Thickens: What Children's Stories tell us about Mindreading

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Because a major selection pressure on humans has been humans themselves, ancestral humans needed to construct a map of their social world. The ability to attribute mental states to others is necessary for this map, but not sufficient: a social map must show the intentions, emotions and beliefs of individuals relative to one another. This task, which I call goal mapping, can be divided into four subcomponents: (1) noting and remembering the actions performed by a specific individual; (2) determining which of the individual's actions subserve which of the individual's goals; (3) integrating this representation with representations of the goals and actions of the other individuals in one's social world; and (4) identifying points of conflict between the goals of these individuals. Stories told by children point to the existence of capacities dedicated to this task. Children's stories initially lack plot, which consists of three key com-ponents that appear to emerge independently and correspond to the tasks of goal mapping: character constancy, goal-directed action and conflict. This study traces the development of these capacities in two existing samples of children's narratives.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Anthropology Department and Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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