Mentor: Dr. Kimberly Cassidy
This summer I will begin doing research for my own undergraduate thesis, which will involve the study of the development of children's Theory of Mind. It will be an extension of past research done by Professor Kim Cassidy and Katrina Magdol '04. Theory of Mind is children's understanding of persons' mental states, such as desires and beliefs. Past research has shown that although young children are told that someone has a wicked desire, once the desire is fulfilled they think the person who had the wicked desire will be sad. For example when told that Jimmy does not like Bobby and wants to hit him, after Jimmy does hit Bobby, a child will say that Jimmy is now sad even though it is what Jimmy wanted and intended to do. Past researchers have said that this is because young children are egocentric in their thinking and are unable to comprehend that a child would have a wicked desire. Young children do not appear to be able to think of others as subjective beings. Past researchers claim that young children do not attribute thoughts and emotions different from their own to others, and would not understand that a child could be happy that his or her desire has been fulfilled because the desire was bad.
Another explanation of children's difficulty understanding wicked desires is that they may be using normative beliefs, stereotypical beliefs about what children should desire and how they should behave; therefore they assume that another child would be remorseful after fulfilling a wicked desire and would be sad rather than happy afterward. I will examine this phenomenon in preschool-age children (3-5 years) by giving them examples of scenarios where a child has a wicked desire and asking them to explain what they think the child would be thinking before and after the desire is fulfilled.