Heinz Wimmer and Josef Perner (Salzburg, 1984) invited children of different ages and told them the story of Maxi. Maxis sees his mother putting a bar of chocolate in the blue cupboard. Then Maxi goes out to play. Meanwhile, the mother bakes a cake, takes out the chocolate, and puts the rest not back in the blue cupboard, but in the green, on the other side of the room. After that Maxi came back from playing.
Then they asked the children who were told this story, where Maxi would probably be looking for the chocolate.
If a child were to say: in the blue closet! This means that it cannot yet be believed that someone believes something wrong.
Who a child would say: in the green closet! This would mean that it has an understanding that someone can believe something wrong.
Most children as young as 3 could not comprehend this “false belief”. Most four-year-olds, however, knew that Maxi would mistakenly look for the chocolate in the blue cupboard. This result has been confirmed in a large number of other studies (e.g. Baron-Cohen et al., 1985; Newcombe & Huttenlocher (1992).
What does this mean for us as educators?
That children at the age of 4 start analyzing other people’s thoughts and behaviors to predict their behavior.
This is the cognitive prerequisite for deliberately planting a “false faith” in other people’s minds.
Until now, hiding games have had their appeal in experiencing the curiosity of searching and the excitement of hiding. But now there is a completely different dimension: namely, that the child understands more and more precisely that the seeker really has no idea where he is. And which hiding place is a really good one.
Other games, where you have to deceive and disguise, where you have to assess your teammates and predict their behavior, can now be played.
Last but not least, this cognitive developmental step enables the child to recognize the deceptions and lies of the other children and the educators. Since the child is no longer only observing us in our actions, but is increasingly able to decipher our thoughts, it is becoming increasingly important to be a good model in terms of thought as well. That is, for educators: to be a reflective and authentic personality.
Heinz Wimmer, Silvia Gruber, Josef Perner. (1984) Young children’s conception of lying: Lexical realism—Moral subjectivism, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Volume 37, Issue 1, 1984, Pages 1-30.
Baron-Cohen, Simon; Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (October 1985). “Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”?”. Cognition. 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210. Pdf. 19.05.2020
Newcombe, Nora S., Huttenlocher, Janellen. (1992) Children’s early ability to solve perspective-taking problems. Developmental Psychology, 28(4), 635–643. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1618.104.22.1685.