Three-year-olds hide their communicative intentions in appropriate contexts.

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Human cooperative communication involves both an informative intention that the recipient understands the content of the signal and also a (Gricean) communicative intention that the recipient recognizes that the speaker has an informative intention. The degree to which children understand this 2-layered nature of communication is the subject of some debate. One phenomenon that would seem to constitute clear evidence of such understanding is hidden authorship, in which informative acts are produced but with the communicative intent behind them intentionally hidden. In this study, 3- and 5-year-old children were told that an adult was seeking a toy but wanted to find it on her own. Children of both ages often did something to make the toy easier for the adult to see while at the same time concealing their actions in some way. This suggests that by the age of 3, children are able to separate the multiple layers of intentionality involved in human cooperative communication.


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Grosse, Gerlind, Thomas C Scott-Phillips and Michael Tomasello (2013). Three-year-olds hide their communicative intentions in appropriate contexts. Dev Psychol, 49(11). pp. 2095–2101. 10.1037/a0032017 Retrieved from

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