The proposed research addresses a fundamental aspect of children's cognitive and social development -- their understanding of the mind. Understanding of the mind plays a critical role in the ability to function as effective social beings. Without an understanding that others have mental states, like beliefs and ideas, people would be unable to communicate and interact sensibly. The proposed work will examine an important yet unexplored aspect of this understanding -- children's knowledge about imagination. Children's understanding of imagination is important to study for several reasons. First, as a component of pretense, it serves as a vehicle for exploration of adult experiences and identities. Second, recent theorizing grants imagination a central role in the emergence of an understanding of human behavior. Finally, for adults and children, imagination serves as a source of much creative thinking and new discoveries. Despite the importance of an understanding of imagination, this question has been neglected in research on children's understanding of mind. Most studies have focused on aspects of children's understanding of epistemic mental states -- those mental states, like beliefs, that originate in direct interaction with physical reality and purport to represent reality truthfully. The conclusions drawn from the research are broader, however, encompassing children's understanding of representational mental states generally. This raises several important questions about children's understanding of fictional mental representations--those mental states, like imagination, that are representational, but do not purport to represent reality accurately. The proposed studies will examine the development of young children's understanding of the fictional mental state of imagination. The proposal addresses questions in three areas: (l) what is children's understanding of the correspondence between imagination and physical reality? (2) are there differences in children's ability to conceive of multiple representations with regard to fictional versus epistemic mental states, and (3) what do children understand about the origin of imagination and other mental states? Answers to these questions will fill a gap in our knowledge of children's understanding of imagination specifically, and will aide in developing more comprehensive theories about children's understanding of the mind more generally.
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