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Preschoolers Acquire General Knowledge by Sharing in Pretense


  • This work benefited from conversations with Andrei Cimpian, Mathieu Le Corre, Alan M. Leslie, and Karen R. Neary. This work was funded by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, awarded to the second author.

concerning this article should be addressed to Ori Friedman, Department of Psychology, 200 University Avenue W., University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G1. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children acquire general knowledge about many kinds of things, but there are few known means by which this knowledge is acquired. In this article, it is proposed that children acquire generic knowledge by sharing in pretend play. In Experiment 1, twenty-two 3- to 4-year-olds watched pretense in which a puppet represented a “nerp” (an unfamiliar kind of animal). For instance, in one scenario, the nerp ate and disliked a carrot. When subsequently asked generic questions about real nerps, children’s responses suggested that they had learned general facts (e.g., nerps dislike carrots). In Experiment 2, thirty-two 4- to 5-year-olds learned from scenarios lacking pretend speech or sound effects. The findings reveal a long overlooked means by which children can acquire generic knowledge.