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Definition

Social cognition is the study of information processing by a person in a social setting. It's a sub-topic of social psychology that concentrates on how people process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations. Most of the social signalling happens automatically and unconsciously between sender and receiver.

Social signals, like facial expressions of fear or anger, or eye gaze direction, are particularly important in infant development. A good example is social referencing - when infants come across a new object, they refer to their parents' facial expressions to figure out if they should approach the new object or not.

Weisberg, D. (2015) Pretend play (Journal Article)

Title Pretend play
Abstract:

Pretend play is a form of playful behavior that involves nonliteral action. Although on the surface this activity appears to be merely for fun, recent research has discovered that children's pretend play has connections to important cognitive and social skills, such as symbolic thinking, theory of mind, and counterfactual reasoning. The current article first defines pretend play and then reviews the arguments and evidence for these three connections. Pretend play has a nonliteral correspondence to reality, hence pretending may provide children with practice with navigating symbolic relationships, which may strengthen their language skills. Pretend play and theory of mind reasoning share a focus on others' mental states in order to correctly interpret their behavior, hence pretending and theory of mind may be mutually supportive in development. Pretend play and counterfactual reasoning both involve representing nonreal states of affairs, hence pretending may facilitate children's counterfactual abilities. These connections make pretend play an important phenomenon in cognitive science: Studying children's pretend play can provide insight into these other abilities and their developmental trajectories, and thereby into human cognitive architecture and its development.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2015
Volume:
6
Page/s:
249-261
Synonyms:
  • Atypical development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Language
  • Literature review
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Symbolic play
Research discipline:

Weisberg, D. et al. (2013) Pretense, Counterfactuals, and Bayesian Causal Models: Why What Is Not Real Really Matters (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Young children spend a large portion of their time pretending about non-real situations. Why? We answer this question by using the framework of Bayesian causal models to argue that pretending and counterfactual reasoning engage the same component cognitive abilities: disengaging with current reality, making inferences about an alternative representation of reality, and keeping this representation separate from reality. In turn, according to causal models accounts, counterfactual reasoning is a crucial tool that children need to plan for the future and learn about the world. Both planning with causal models and learning about them require the ability to create false premises and generate conclusions from these premises. We argue that pretending allows children to practice these important cognitive skills. We also consider the prevalence of unrealistic scenarios in children's play and explain how they can be useful in learning, despite appearances to the contrary.

Date:
January 2013
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
37
Page/s:
1368-1381
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Learning
  • Literature review
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

White, R. et al. (2016) What would Batman do? (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This experimental research assessed the influence of graded levels of self-distancing – psychological distancing from one's egocentric perspective – on executive function (EF) in young children. Three- (n = 48) and 5-year-old (n = 48) children were randomly assigned to one of four manipulations of distance from the self (from proximal to distal: self-immersed, control, third person, and exemplar) on a comprehensive measure of EF. Performance increased as a function of self-distancing across age groups. Follow-up analyses indicated that 5-year-olds were driving this effect. They showed significant improvements in EF with increased distance from the self, outperforming controls both when taking a third person perspective on the self and when taking the perspective of an exemplar other (e.g., Batman) through role play. Three-year-olds, however, did not show increased EF performance as a function of greater distance from the self. Preliminary results suggest that developments in theory of mind might contribute to these age-related differences in efficacy. These findings speak to the importance of psychological distancing in the expression of conscious control over thought and action from a young age and suggest a promising new avenue for early EF intervention.

Date:
January 2016
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
19
Page/s:
419-426
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Whitebread, D. (2012) Developmental psychology and early childhood education: a guide for students and practitioners (Book)

Whitebread, D. et al. (2012) Preschool children's social pretend play: supporting the development of metacommunication, metacognition and self-regulation (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This paper presents an overview of the conceptual, developmental and functional aspects of metacommunication in preschool children's social pretend play. While the relationship between the representational aspects of social pretend play and positive developmental outcomes is well researched, metacommunicaton in social pretend play remains a largely under-researched phenomenon. A definition of social pretend play is proposed leading to propositions as to its specific functions for young children's learning and development. In particular, it is hypothesised that the development of metacommunication during social pretend play may make an important contribution to the early development of metacognition and self-regulation. Having proposed these specific functions for metacommunication, the implications of this for adult involvement in naturally occurring social pretend play are discussed. Identifying more specifically the components of social pretend play which support specific aspects of learning can inform pedagogical innovations, and the realisation of the full educational potential of social pretend play. While this review highlights some important conceptual, developmental and pedagogical issues in relation to metacommunicaton in social pretend play, these aspects clearly require elaboration. Suggestions are made for further research on metacommunciation development, and the conditions which support its emergence and development.

Date:
January 2012
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
1
Page/s:
197-213
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Literature review
  • Metacognition
  • Pedagogy
  • Peers play
  • Pretend play
  • Self-regulation
  • Social cognition
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Zyga, O. et al. (2015) Assessment of Pretend Play in Prader-Willi Syndrome: A Direct Comparison to Autism Spectrum Disorder (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Children with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) are at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including pervasive social deficits. While play impairments in ASD are well documented, play abilities in PWS have not been evaluated. Fourteen children with PWS and ten children with ASD were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) (Lord et al. in Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule manual. Western Psychological Services, Los Angeles, 2006) as part of a larger project. A modified Affect in Play Scale (APS; Russ in Play in child development and psychotherapy: toward empirically supported practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, Mahwah, 2004; Pretend play in childhood: foundation of adult creativity. APA Books, Washington, 2014) was used to score ADOS play activities. Results indicate both groups scored below normative data on measures of imagination, organization, and affective expression during individual play. In addition, the inclusion of a play partner in both groups increased all scaled scores on the APS. These findings suggest children with PWS show impaired pretend play abilities similar to ASD. Further research is warranted and should focus on constructing and validating programs aimed at improving symbolic and functional play abilities within these populations.

Date:
January 2015
Volume:
45
Page/s:
975-987
Synonyms:
  • Atypical development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Play assessment
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social play
  • Social-emotional
  • Solitary play
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline: