Escape From Metaignorance: How Children Develop an Understanding of Their Own Lack of Knowledge


  • This study is part of two research projects financed by the European and Austrian Science Funds (ESF/FWF Project I93-G15 “Metacognition of Perspective Differences” and FWF Project V00-122 “How Can We Change the Way We Think?”). We express our gratitude to management, staff, and children of the following kindergartens and after-school care centers for their friendly cooperation: Kindergarten Leonfeldnerstraße, Kindergarten Sattledt, Kindergarten Dornacherstraße, Kindergarten Johann-Wilhelm-Klein-Straße, Kindergarten Minnesängerplatz, Kindergarten Commendastraße, Hort Weißkirchen (after-school care center), Hort Linz-Solarcity (after-school care center), and Hort Haid (after-school care center).

concerning this article should be addressed to Michael Rohwer, Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Hellbrunnerstraße 34, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria. Electronic mail may be sent to


Previous research yielded conflicting results about when children can accurately assess their epistemic states in different hiding tasks. In Experiment 1, ninety-two 3- to 7-year-olds were either shown which object was hidden inside a box, were totally ignorant about what it could be, or were presented with two objects one of which was being put inside (partial exposure). Even 3-year-olds could assess their epistemic states in the total ignorance and the complete knowledge task. However, only children older than 5 could assess their ignorance in the partial exposure task. In Experiment 2 with one hundred and one 3- to 7-year-olds, similar results were found for children under 5 years even when more objects were shown in partial exposure tasks. Implications for children’s developing theory of knowledge are discussed.