A new study shows that children as young as three or four years old can reflect on their feelings and when given the tools can communicate this to others. According to this brief article in the LA Times, the study tested how small children felt about answers they had given on a test.
UC Davis psychologist Simona Ghetti and student Kristen Lyons had 3- and 4-year-olds look at pictures of familiar objects, including monkeys, with features removed, making them harder to recognize. The child would choose between two photographs, either of a child looking confident or doubtful, and pick the picture that best reflected how they felt about their answer.
Even the 3-year-olds were more likely to choose the photo of a confident child when right and the doubtful child when wrong, reported Ghetti at a psychology meeting. They were aware of their uncertainty — a skill Homo sapiens appears to share with just a few other creatures, including dolphins and monkeys.
Did dolphins take the same test? How do they know that dolphins can do this too? I think people overestimate dolphins. Although, I have read that wild dolphins often give birth in the water with the help of another dolphin who acts like a midwife, which goes to show that even dolphins recognize that freebirthing is a bad idea. Okay, maybe they’re smart after all.
But back to kids. The article says that developmental psychologists have long thought that before age 5, children were mostly unable to reflect upon thoughts, feelings or memories — a skill that is critical to higher-order learning and self-control. Well the cat’s out of the bag now. No more temper tantrums in my house. Hear that Sasha?