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11-08b+Flavell+et+al+2001

11-08b+Flavell+et+al+2001 - PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Research...

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PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Research Report 430 Copyright © 2001 American Psychological Society VOL. 12, NO. 5, SEPTEMBER 2001 DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN’S UNDERSTANDING OF CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING John H. Flavell, Eleanor R. Flavell, and Frances L. Green Stanford University Abstract— Two studies assessed the development of children’s under- standing that thoughts and feelings are closely interlinked. These stud- ies showed that, unlike 8-year-olds and adults, 5-year-olds seldom explained a sudden change in emotion that had no apparent external cause by appeal to the occurrence of a thought. They also tended not to recognize that a person who is feeling sad is probably also thinking sad thoughts, or that people may be able to make themselves feel happy just by thinking of something happy. These results are consis- tent with evidence that young children tend to be unaware of the stream of consciousness and have poor introspective skills. A possible developmental sequence leading to an understanding of these thought- feeling links is proposed. A great deal of research during the past two decades has examined the development of children’s understanding of the mental world, an understanding commonly construed as a theory of mind (see, e.g., re- views of this work by Flavell & Miller, 1998, and Wellman & Gelman, 1998). What does it mean to claim that the outcome of this develop- ment is a theory of mind, rather than just a collection of unrelated skills and beliefs? As Wellman (1990) and other researchers have pointed out, part of what it means is that people’s folk knowledge about the mind is organized and richly interconnected, with different mental states conceptualized as being causally linked to one another, to environmental input, and to behavioral output. For example, adults believe that what they see and hear influences what they think about and believe; that what they believe can bias what they perceive; that mental and physiological states can engender feelings and desires; that beliefs and desires may lead to intentions, which in turn will engender goal-directed actions; and that the success or failure of these goal- directed actions will cause emotional reactions, which will in their turn trigger additional mental events and behaviors. The purpose of the present research was to test children’s under- standing of three very closely related intuitions about links between thoughts and feelings—intuitions that we believe most adults share. Intuition 1 . Feelings can be triggered not only by external events but also by internal thoughts alone—in the absence of any external stimuli. For example, if a person suddenly starts to feel sad in the absence of any change in the environment, the cause would likely have been the sudden occurrence of a sad thought or memory.
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