36-month-olds conceal visual and auditory information from others


Alicia P. Melis, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103, Leipzig, Germany; e-mail: melis@eva.mpg.de


By three years of age, children are skilled at assessing under which circumstances others can see things. However, nothing is known about whether they can use this knowledge to guide their own deceptive behaviour. Here we investigated 3-year-olds’ ability to strategically inhibit or conceal forbidden actions that a nearby adult experimenter could see or hear. In the first experiment, children were more likely to disobey the adult when she did not have visual access to their activities than they were when she was looking at them. In the second experiment, in which the adult could never see the child, children refrained from making noise when engaging in a prohibited action that the adult might hear. These results suggest that by three years of age children use their knowledge of others’ perceptual states to decide whether it is safe to commit a transgression and, moreover, actively conceal perceptual cues that could reveal to others their ongoing transgression.