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Young children understand multiple pretend identities in their object play


Correspondence should be addressed to Emily Wyman, Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig D-04103, Germany (e-mail:


This set of studies examined the ability of 3-year-olds to conceptualize multiple pretend identities with objects. Rather than relying on verbal response measures, as has been done in the past, children's creative and inferential pretend actions were used as indicators of their understanding. The common structure to all four studies was that children were confronted with one pretend scenario, moved to a second pretend scenario and then back again to the first. Children proficiently tailored their pretence to an object whose pretend identity changed between scenarios despite being less able to name each identity. Thus, using an inferential action methodology, these studies provide early and particularly convincing evidence that children can track the multiple pretend identities of objects.