We use mental files to present an analysis of children's developing understanding of identity in alternative naming tasks and belief. The core assumption is that younger children below the age of about 4 years create different files for an object depending on how the object is individuated (e.g., as a rabbit or as an animal). They can anchor them to the same object, hence think of the same object whether they think of it as a rabbit or as an animal. However, the claim is, they cannot yet link their files to one another to represent that they have the same referent. Without linking the information contained in one file is not available in the other file. Hence, when thinking of the object as a rabbit (using the rabbit file) the information that it is also an animal is not available. For representing a person's belief about an object a vicarious file contains what the person believes about the object. To capture that the belief is about that object the vicarious file has to be linked to the regular file, which by assumption children younger than 4 years cannot do. This assumption can therefore explain why problems with alternative naming and understanding false beliefs are overcome at the same age.
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Or as one of the reviewers has pointed out that the repeated emphasis on not repeating what the experimenter has said may lead to a pink elephant phenomenon that the children trying to avoid repetition can’t help say what they are intent on avoiding.
One may well wonder what children, who despite the very explicit instructions not to repeat partner’s answer still repeat that very label, do understand of the instructions. We don’t really know. They probably try to be cooperative and make the best of something they don’t fully comprehend. They most likely pick up on “having to say what the ostended object is,” and then cannot but repeat what the experimenter had just called it. Interestingly, when instructed to pretend the object was something else and, therefore, call the object something it is not (control condition in Experiment 4 of Doherty and Perner 1998) children had few problems.
Markman (1989) expressed this view in the context of explaining mutual exclusivity phenomena: “children may believe that an object has one and only one identity – that it can only be one kind of thing – and that an object’s identity is revealed by object labels” (Markman 1989, p. 212); Similarly John Flavell: “the child may think that the word kitty describes or characterizes the single way that cats are, and consequently that calling them “cat” or “animal” amounts to claiming that they are some other way than that. It is possible, therefore, that young children are loath to accept two category names for the same thing, for much the same reason they are loath to accept two perspectives, or both the appearance and the reality, as two equally valid characterizations of the same thing: namely, because one thing has only one nature and should therefore be characterized in only one way.” (Flavell 1988, p. 254).
In the case of “white” another interpretation is possible, namely that one is not talking about the rabbit but about its colour, i.e., “This is white” means “the colour I am pointing at is white.” Although possible it does not seem to occur in the contexts used in the alternative naming game.
This is not to be understood as an argument that it has to be that way, but that alternative filing is a possible and perhaps sensible option.
Linking of files is not restricted to only two files. Our account is, therefore, not limited to two alternative labels in the alternative naming game. In fact, children could have individuated the objects in other ways, e.g., as a pet, a living thing, etc. This would not impinge on our theoretical claims. It just turns out that children this age typically do not venture beyond the terms that have been used in the pretest.
When in a discourse an object is being individuated or referred to under a particular label the corresponding discourse file is activated. A basic mechanism of entrainment or alignment (Pickering and Garrod 2004) obliges the discourse participants to keep conceptualizing the object under this file in order to keep common ground and to not mix different perspectives. These alignment processes have also been described as “conceptual pacts” (Brennan and Clark 1996)
Starting with Clements and Perner (1994) earlier competence could be demonstrated when children are not asked a question about the protagonist, but children’s looking behavior is registered, i.e., where they look in expectation of where the protagonist will go, or that they look longer when something unexpected happens than when the expected happens (Onishi and Baillargeon 2005). The interpretation of these data is hotly debated, most recently: Baillargeon et al. 2010; Butterfill and Apperly 2013; Helming et al. 2014; Perner and Roessler 2012; Ruffman 2014.
Pretending that the Lego block is a bar of chocolate could be represented with a discourse file that has no referent (representing a fictional entity) but being anchored by stipulation (no serious recognitional processes) to the Lego piece as a prop. The discourse file functions as part of a discourse: if I pour water over the chocolate it will be wet (Harris and Kavanaugh 1993), etc. The anchoring serves to direct the actions represented in the files to the props.
Perner et al. (2007) e.g., p 488) dealt with vertical linking by having identifiers for each regular file and vicarious files bearing the same identifier, indicating that they share the same referent. But this method falls short of specifying anything about information flow between files.
This sequence is plausible unless we subscribe to simulation theory. Simulation makes it possible to put oneself into the agent’s perspective of ignorance about the die being an eraser and, hence, one would not generate a regular eraser file during simulation and, consequently, not tempted to create a vicarious eraser file.
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Perner, J., Leahy, B. Mental Files in Development: Dual Naming, False Belief, Identity and Intensionality. Rev.Phil.Psych. 7, 491–508 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-015-0235-6
- Noun Phrase
- False Belief Task
- Mental File
- Discourse Referent
- Colour Control