Children's understanding of intentional vs. non-intentional action

L Colle, D Mate, M Del Giudice, Chris Ashwin, S Baron-Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the development of children's understanding of others' intentions. We report 3 experiments in which three- and five-year-olds (total sample: N = 120) were tested using 15 videotaped pairs of action sequences excluding social information from the face. In each pair of videos the same action was performed with and without an intention (e.g. John pours water, vs. John spills water). Results showed that five-year-olds were more accurate in distinguishing intentional from non-intentional actions, while threeyear- olds were significantly worse at understanding non-intentional actions. Three year olds tended to judge non-intentional actions as being intentional, suggesting, as Piaget proposed, they over-ascribe intentionality. This effect was found both in a verbal and non-verbal version of the task. Therefore the development of mental state explanations of actions may involve a gradual increase across preschool ages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-68
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Cognitive Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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