Does your baby know what you are thinking? New insights in Social Cognition

All in the Mind: Developmental Psychology

In Radio 4’s All in the Mind, broadcast 12/06/2012, Claudia Hammond talks to Professor Vasu Reddy from the University of Portsmouth. Prof Reddy presents a compelling challenge to the current assumptions about the limits on the mental abilities of babies within Developmental Psychology.

Reddy (Professor of Developmental and Cultural Psychology) claims that research in this field has led Developmental Psychology to underestimate the abilities of babies to understand themselves and others.

Sense of Self and Theory of Mind: Social Cognition

The assumption currently within Development Psychology is that before the age of 2 a child does not have a sense of self or Theory of Mind. The latter development in particular, is viewed as a complex ability that requires the more sophisticated mental tools of a 3 or 4 year old. Reddy’s research, however, suggests that babies are able to joke with and tease other people and show a kind of coy self-consciousness which should not be possible at such a young age.

AQA Spec A A2: Cognition and Development

The A2 spec (AQA A) requires students to study the development of a sense of self and understanding of others including Theory of Mind if Cognition and Development is a selected area for Unit 3 (Topics in Psychology).

AO2: analysis and evaluation

In the interview (approximately 12 minutes duration) with Claudia Hammond, Reddy claims that her videoed studies of young babies reveal that very young children are able to tease and joke with their parents and other adults (including experimenters). Teasing behaviour requires according to Reddy an ability to know the expectations of the person you are teasing.
Reddy describes in the programme seeing a baby being videoed as part of her research offering an item to an adult (her husband). He reached out and just as he moved towards her she grinned and pulled the item being offered back out of his reach. She continued to repeat this pattern. Laughing as she did so. Reddy argues that this kind of teasing implies that the child has an understanding that the other person has an expectation about what is going to happen.
Before I was a parent myself I think I would have argued, as Claudia Hammond offers in challenge, that this is just simple mechanical learning and not necessarily evidence of an understanding of self and others. Like Reddy, however, my experience tells me that my daughter does know what I am thinking and that she can predict my behaviour to an extent, enjoying joking with and teasing me.

In the classroom

This section of the programme starts at about 11 minutes and ends around 23 minutes into the 28 minute programme. As a classroom resource it offers an interesting challenge to the content of the A2 textbooks in this area and would provoke a thoughtful discussion in the classroom, and give students plenty of scope to generate meaningful and relevant AO2 for their written work.

Related resources

There is a useful short (2:18 mins) video on the BBC website entitled “Is that me in the mirror?” (published online 20th October 2009) where Vasu Reddy explains and demonstrates the mirror test used to assess self recognition. This video formed part of a Horizon documentary called “The Secret You” (broadcast 9pm on 20/10/2009). The full documentary is available on You Tube.


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