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Preschoolers understand and generate pretend actions using object substitution

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-334
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
DateAccepted/In press - 16 Aug 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2019


Pretend play is often considered to be an imaginative or creative activity. Yet past experimental research has focused on whether children imitate pretense, follow instructions to pretend, or understand others’ pretense. Thus, we cannot be sure that children's pretense is in fact novel or whether children simply copy or follow others’ instructions. This is the first experiment to show that preschoolers generate their own novel object substitutions. In Study 1, 45 3- and 4-year-olds saw an experimenter use one object as another accompanied by pretend or trying cues. Children differentiated between the experimenter's intentions by imitating the actions accompanied by pretend cues and correcting the actions accompanied by trying cues. In addition, when the experimenter made her intentions to pretend or try explicit, children produced significantly more novel object substitutions not modeled or verbally requested by the experimenter within a pretend context than within a trying context. Study 2 replicated these findings with 34 3-year-olds using a repeated-measures design. However, it found no relationship between children's copying or generation of object substitutions and divergent thinking, inhibitory control, or pretense during free play.

    Research areas

  • Divergent thinking, Free play, Inhibitory control, Intention, Object substitution, Pretend



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