Understanding desire

Published: Thursday 15 May 1997

Enter the eighteenth month and a child begins to distinguish between its own desire and someone else's. This was discovered recently by Betty Repacholi at the University of Sydney in Australia and Alison Gopnik at the University of California in the US. After studying 160 toddlers, half of them aged 14 months and the other half aged 18 months, the psychologists found that the older group understood that someone else's choice of foods could be different from their own. By contrast, the younger group assumed that everyone else must like the foods they liked. As a result of these experiments, researchers conclude that during the eighteenth month toddlers begin to understand that people can feel differently towards objects. Unable to say for sure why older children behaved the way they did, researchers say one factor could be the beginning of a better ability to infer things at this stage.

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