skip to main content


Title: How children learn to transcend limits: Developmental pathways to possibility beliefs

This review presents a theoretical account of the development of possibility beliefs in childhood through two developmental pathways, centered around the experience and understanding of our intentional, goal-directed actions. Pathway 1 (Naïve Optimism to Calibrated Realism) can be seen as early as the first year, as increased coordination of action through motor experience leads infants to a graded notion of what is possible and how much effort is required to achieve goals. Infants also incorporate social information into their earliest possibility beliefs, referencing caregivers to guide them in uncertain situations and learning from role models to effectively calibrate effort. Pathway 2 (Naïve Pessimism to Creative Transcendence) emerges from ages 4 to 7. At first, preschoolers correctly distinguish possible and impossible actions but are overly pessimistic about limits on possibility. With age, children use their imaginations to overcome hypothetical limits. This account suggests that realistic beliefs about what we can possibly do are in place in early childhood, preceding later developmental milestones in self-concept, identity, self-efficacy, achievement-orientation, and self-goals. This leaves open questions about mechanisms of change, how possibility beliefs contribute to later self-beliefs, and whether interventions that combine action experience with creative idea generation can increase the sense of the possible in children and adults.

 
more » « less
NSF-PAR ID:
10423522
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 
Publisher / Repository:
SAGE Publications
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Possibility Studies & Society
Volume:
1
Issue:
4
ISSN:
2753-8699
Format(s):
Medium: X Size: p. 451-460
Size(s):
p. 451-460
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Highlights

    In the present experiments, 3‐month‐old prereaching infants learned to attribute either object goals or place goals to other people's reaching actions.

    Prereaching infants view agents’ actions as goal‐directed, but do not expect these acts to be directed to specific objects, rather than to specific places.

    Prereaching infants are open‐minded about the specific goal states that reaching actions aim to achieve.

     
    more » « less
  2. A valid and believable narrative plan must often meet at least two requirements: the author’s goal must be satisfied by the end, and every action taken must make sense based on the goals and beliefs of the characters who take them. Many narrative planners are based on progression, or forward search through the space of possible states. When reasoning about goals and beliefs, progression can be wasteful, because either the planner needs to satisfy the author’s goal first and then explain actions, backtracking when an explanation cannot be found, or explain actions as they are taken, which may waste effort explaining actions that are not relevant to the author’s goal. We propose that regression, or backward search from goals, can address this problem. Regression ensures that every action sequence is intentional and only reasons about the agent beliefs needed for a plan to make sense. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Many people believe in equality of opportunity but overlook and minimize the structural factors that shape social inequalities in the United States and around the world, such as systematic exclusion (e.g., educational, occupational) based on group membership (e.g., gender, race, socioeconomic status). As a result, social inequalities persist and place marginalized social groups at elevated risk for negative emotional, learning, and health outcomes. Where do the beliefs and behaviors that underlie social inequalities originate? Recent evidence from developmental science indicates that an awareness of social inequalities begins in childhood and that children seek to explain the underlying causes of the disparities that they observe and experience. Moreover, children and adolescents show early capacities for understanding and rectifying inequalities when regulating access to resources in peer contexts. Drawing on a social reasoning developmental framework, we synthesize what is currently known about children’s and adolescents’ awareness, beliefs, and behavior concerning social inequalities and highlight promising avenues by which developmental science can help reduce harmful assumptions and foster a more just society. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Children who experience early adversity are at increased risk for developing psychopathology, and dysfunction of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is a possible mechanism conferring this risk. This study sought to characterize the association between morning cortisol during different developmental periods and deficits in children's emotion regulation, a core feature of many psychological disorders. Morning cortisol was collected at two time points (i.e., during infancy,M= 13.0 months old, and during early childhood,M= 36.8 months old) from 120 children with histories of child protective services (CPS) involvement. Children completed a lab visit during early childhood (M= 38.6 months old) that involved an observational measure of anger regulation. Results showed that low morning cortisol during infancy, but not early childhood, predicted increased anger dysregulation during early childhood. These results highlight the importance of developmental timing in assessing the effects ofHPAaxis functioning and suggest that low cortisol during infancy is a risk factor for later emotion regulation difficulties.

     
    more » « less
  5. Anti-Black racism remains a pervasive crisis in the United States. Racist social systems reinforce racial inequalities and perpetuate prejudicial beliefs. These beliefs emerge in childhood, are difficult to change once entrenched in adolescence and adulthood, and lead people to support policies that further reinforce racist systems. Therefore, it is important to identify what leads children to form prejudicial beliefs and biases and what steps can be taken to preempt their development. This study examined how children’s exposure to and beliefs about racial inequalities predicted anti-Black biases in a sample of 646 White children (4 to 8 years) living across the United States. We found that for children with more exposure to racial inequality in their daily lives, those who believed that racial inequalities were caused by intrinsic differences between people were more likely to hold racial biases, whereas those who recognized the extrinsic factors underlying racial inequalities held more egalitarian attitudes. Grounded in constructivist theories in developmental science, these results are consistent with the possibility that racial biases emerge in part from the explanatory beliefs that children construct to understand the racial inequalities they see in the world around them.

     
    more » « less