The influence of availability and affect on children's pretence


Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, UK.


This study reports three experiments investigating children's understanding of the distinction between pretence and reality. Previous research (e.g. Harris, Brown, Marriott, Whittall, & Harmer, 1991; Johnson & Harris, 1994) has suggested marked individual differences in children's susceptibility to pretend-reality confusions. The present series of experiments explored the effects of cognitive availability and affect on pretence understanding. In Expts 1 and 2, 5-6-year-old children were asked to pretend that liked, disliked and neutral entities were inside either opaque (high availability) or transparent (low availability) boxes. The children's responses when asked to select or reject the boxes was determined by the affect evoked by the entity. In Expt 3, children were asked to explain their behaviour towards the pretended entities. The results indicated individual differences between groups of children. Across all three studies the evidence suggests that some children as old as 6 years of age may experience temporary pretend-reality confusions which can be explained in terms of the effects of availability.