On tools and toys: how children learn to act on and pretend with 'virgin objects'.
The focus of the present study was the role of cultural learning in infants' acquisition of pretense actions with objects. In three studies, 18- and 24-month-olds (n = 64) were presented with novel objects, and either pretense or instrumental actions were demonstrated with these. When children were then allowed to act upon the objects themselves, qualitatively similar patterns of cultural (imitative) learning both of pretend and of instrumental actions were observed, suggesting that both types of actions can be acquired in similar ways through processes of cultural learning involving one or another form of collective intentionality. However, both absolute imitation rates and creativity were lower in pretense compared to instrumental actions, suggesting that the collective intentionality that constitutes pretense is especially difficult for children to comprehend. An additional analysis of children's gazes to the experimenter during their actions revealed that 24-month-olds looked more often to the experimenter during pretense actions than during instrumental actions - suggesting that pretense is culturally learned in a similar fashion as practical actions, but that young children understand pretense as a more inherently social, intersubjective activity.
Rakoczy, H; Tomasello, M; Striano, T
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