Young children rationally revise and maintain what others think of them

Mika Asaba, Hyowon Gweon

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Received Date: 6th December 19

We care tremendously about what others think of us. However, others' beliefs about us critically hinge on what they did and did not observe; given limited evidence, their beliefs can be inaccurate, undesirable, or misaligned with what we think of ourselves. Thus, the ability to reason about and manage others' beliefs about the self is critical for navigating social interactions and constructing healthy self-concepts. However, prior work on Theory of Mind has largely focused on children's reasoning about others' beliefs about the external world (e.g., Where does Sally think her toy is?), leaving open important questions about children's ability to reason about others' beliefs about the self. Here we report four experiments investigating how children reason about others' beliefs about the self based on others' past observations of their own performance. Three- and four-year-old children chose to demonstrate their success to someone who had only observed their failures but not their successes (Exp.1); children readily overrode their desire to demonstrate a novel toy to show their success on a familiar toy when the observer falsely believed that the child cannot operate the familiar toy (Exp. 2-3). Furthermore, when the observer had an inflated (i.e., false but desirable) belief about the self, children engaged in a task that would maintain the observer's belief rather than a task that would reveal their true abilities (Exp.4). Building on prior work on Theory of Mind and reputation management, these results suggest that the inferential and representational capacities to reason about others' beliefs about the self emerge early in life, and powerfully influence children's social interaction, communication, and even task choice.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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