Young children's understanding of the context-relativity of normative rules in conventional games

  • Rakoczy H
  • Brosche N
  • Warneken F
 et al. 
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We investigated young childrens awareness of the context-relative rule structure of simple games. Two contexts were established in the form of spatial locations. Familiar objects were used in their conventional way at location t, but acquired specific functions in a rule game at location 2. A third party then performed the conventional act at either of the two locations, constituting a mistake at location 2 (experimental condition), but appropriate at location I (control condition). Three-year-olds (but not 2-year-olds) systematically distinguished the two conditions, spontaneously intervening with normative protest against the third party act in the experimental, but not in the control condition. Young children thus understand context-specific rules even when the context marking is non-linguistic. These results are discussed in the broader context of the development of social cognition and cultural learning. Human infants from around 1 year of age begin to engage in imitative learning from others (e.g. Carpenter, Nagell, & Tomasello, 1998). Many of the acts children learn through imitation are not just individual, idiosyncratic behaviours, but cultural conventional forms of action. And many of these forms of action are rule-governed and normalively .structured (e.g. Kalish, 2005): there is a right and wrong way to do them -including linguistic behaviour, conventional usage of cultural artefacts (e.g. tools), and games of all sorts. While older children approaching school age have revealed some understanding of the conventional and normative aspects of such cultural activities in explicit interview studies (e.g. Kalish. 1998; Smetana, I981;Turiel, 1983), recent research has just begun to investigate earlier forms of understanding the conventionality' and normativity of social practices in the preschool years. In the domain of tool use, for example, Casier and Kelemen (2005) have found evidence that even 2-year-olds not only imitated instrumental actit)ns with novel artefacts, but they also showed functional fixedness to the imitated

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