Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Theory of Mind and Melina

Yesterday, as we were eating dinner, Melina was in her walker, eating a cracker. Our miniature schnauzer, Diego, was trying to eat her cracker, and she was pulling it away, protesting. Finally, she grew tired of his insistence, reached up, and tapped me on the leg. I looked down at her, and she pointed at Diego and babbled at me. SHe had a look on her face that said, "would you please tell him to leave me alone?" She was telling on the dog! My wife was shocked to see it. I tapped Diego on the nose and told him, "No." and he went away, much to Melina's clear satisfaction.

There are various levels of development of theory of mind, ranging from mere mimicking of others (present almost immediately upon birth, or shortly thereafter), to understanding that another person understand you and has intentions, knowledge, beliefs, etc. This latter happens at about 14-18 months. Melina is one (a week away from 13 months, to be exact), and she clearly demonstrated an understanding of intent on the part of Diego, and she understood that I would understand what she was "saying" to me, and that I would respond in a way that would help her with her problem, and that Diego would be encouraged to change his behavior by my actions. I mean, this is pretty complex thinking -- and 14-18 month old children can do it! Or in this case, a child just short of 13 months. Of course, there's typically a developmental window, with the 14-18 months being the larger portion of the bell curve, though children will also, of course, be found in the tails of the bell. I'm not sure how far along the tail Melina is, but this is a good sign.

Along these lines, Melina is also drinking from a straw. She's been doing that for almost 2 weeks now. A few people have expressed surprise at her doing it, but it's apparently not all that uncommon at her age.

I have also noticed that Melina's babbling sounds like "sentences" -- though it's hard to say why or how. It would be interesting to see if sentences have certain sounds based on their structures. I don't know if anyone has done such research, but listening to my baby's babbling has made me think that our sentences may have structures based on sound patterns, or perhaps lilts of voice. This is free for any linguists out there who would be interested in finding this out. I don't have time to look into everything I think of.
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