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Learning curve not so smooth

Preschoolers often achieve mind reading milestone in fits and starts

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7:00am, October 31, 2016

WRONG AGAIN  Preschoolers take a variety of paths in the course of learning that others can have errant beliefs, such as assuming a toy is in a basket when it has been moved to a box, a new study finds. Kids often go back and forth in displaying this type of social knowledge rather than following a smooth learning curve.

Many preschoolers take a surprisingly long and bumpy mental path to the realization that people can have mistaken beliefs — say, thinking that a ball is in a basket when it has secretly been moved to a toy box. Traditional learning curves, in which kids gradually move from knowing nothing to complete understanding, don’t apply to this landmark social achievement and probably to many other types of learning, a new study concludes.

Kids ranging in age from 3 to 5 often go back and forth between passing and failing false-belief tests for several months to more than one year, say psychologist Sara Baker of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues. A small minority of youngsters jump quickly from always failing to always passing these tests, the scientists report October 20 in Cognitive Psychology.

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