Children’s Understanding of Ordinary and Extraordinary Minds


  • Funding for this research was provided by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant 22149 to Henry M. Wellman. We are very grateful to the children and parents who participated in this study and to the staff of the University of Michigan Children’s Centers. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan D. Lane, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109. Electronic mail may be sent to


How and when do children develop an understanding of extraordinary mental capacities? The current study tested 56 preschoolers on false-belief and knowledge-ignorance tasks about the mental states of contrasting agents—some agents were ordinary humans, some had exceptional perceptual capacities, and others possessed extraordinary mental capacities. Results indicated that, in contrast to younger and older peers, children within a specific age range reliably attributed fallible, human-like capacities to ordinary humans and to several special agents (including God) for both tasks. These data lend critical support to an anthropomorphism hypothesis—which holds that children’s understanding of extraordinary minds is derived from their everyday intuitive psychology—and reconcile disparities between the findings of other studies on children’s understanding of extraordinary minds.