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Early reflections

CAPSULE

August 27, 2007|Melissa Healy | Times Staff Writer

At 3 and 4 years old, a child seems to define the concept of living "in the moment." She may crumple when a parent leaves or hurl a plaything when it frustrates, all with little evidence of self-awareness.

Developmental psychologists have long thought that before age 5, a child is largely unable to reflect upon her thoughts, feelings or memories -- a skill that is critical to higher-order learning (not to mention self-control).

A new study, however, finds preschoolers are capable of such introspection.

UC Davis psychologist Simona Ghetti and student Kristen Lyons had 3- and 4-year-olds look at pictures of familiar objects, including monkeys, with features removed, making them harder to recognize. The child would choose between two photographs, either of a child looking confident or doubtful, and pick the picture that best reflected how they felt about their answer.

Even the 3-year-olds were more likely to choose the photo of a confident child when right and the doubtful child when wrong, reported Ghetti at a psychology meeting. They were aware of their uncertainty -- a skill Homo sapiens appears to share with just a few other creatures, including dolphins and monkeys.

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melissa.healy@latimes.com

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