What do we know?
- “Social cognition” means being able to understand our own and others’ thoughts, desires, intentions, and feelings.
- Children begin to develop social skills when they understand how people’s thoughts, desires, intentions, and feelings affect the way they act and behave.
- Infants are born with an innate preference for social interactions. From birth, they pay the most attention to human faces and voices.
- In the first months of life, infants are able to smile at people, and respond to others with gestures and facial expressions.
- By the end of the first year, infants start to share interest and attention in objects with you, and may decide whether or not to try a new activity based on your expression. For example, your infant may not play with a new toy if you appear anxious or worried.
- Around the age of two, toddlers distinguish a real object from a pretend object (ex. using a block as a telephone).
- As they grow older, children become able to talk about what they and other people like, want, think or know (around age 3). They also understand that people express different emotions depending on the situation (ex. knowing that an individual is happy when he gets what he wants or sad if he does not).
- Four-year-old children usually recognize that other people’s thoughts may differ from their own. They no longer believe that everyone knows what they know. This step in their development helps them to understand that their own thoughts do not always reflect reality.
- Children who are able to control impulsive thoughts and behaviours are better able to develop social cognition.
- Children who develop social cognition at a young age have the foundations for good social interactions before they start school.
- School-aged children with a well developed social cognition have a tendency to be better at resolving conflicts with friends, which in turn can lead to more positive relationships with their peers. But equally these children may be better at deception and manipulation.
- Social and cognitive understanding can have a positive impact on children’s later school success.
This Key Message is a publication of the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development (CEECD) and the Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Early Child Development (SKC-ECD). These organizations identify and summarize the best scientific work on early childhood development. They disseminate this knowledge to a variety of audiences in formats and languages adapted to their needs.
For a more in-depth understanding of Social Cognition, consult our synthesis and Experts’ articles on this topic in the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, available free of charge at www.child-encyclopedia.com.
Several funders financially support the CEECD and the SKC-ECD, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Université Laval, and private foundations. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official policies of these organizations.
We are grateful to the Fondation Lucie et André Chagnon, the Margaret & Wallace McCain Family Foundation and the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research for their financial contributions to produce this Key Message.
Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development
GRIP-Université de Montréal
P.O. Box 6128, Succursale Centre-ville
Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7
Telephone: 514.343.6111, extension 2541
In this document, the masculine form is used to simplify the text. No discrimination is intended.