Just pretending can be really learning: children use pretend play as a source for acquiring generic knowledge

Dev Psychol. 2013 Sep;49(9):1660-8. doi: 10.1037/a0030788. Epub 2012 Nov 12.


Children can acquire generic knowledge by sharing in pretend play with more knowledgeable partners. We report 3 experiments in which we investigated how this learning occurs-how children draw generalizations from pretense, and whether they resist doing so for pretense that is unrealistic. In all experiments, preschoolers watched pretend scenarios about an animal and were then asked questions about real animals. In Experiment 1, 3- and 4-year-olds treated the pretend scenarios as informative about the kind of animal represented in the pretense but as uninformative about another kind of animal. In Experiments 2 and 3, 4- and 5-year-olds resisted learning from scenarios that contradicted their existing knowledge and expectations. Together, these findings show that children's learning from pretense shows specificity for the kinds represented in pretense and that children's learning from pretense is selective.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Play and Playthings / psychology*