CHILDREN ARE “PROMISCUOUSLY NORMATIVE”. Alison Gopnik had an article in today’s Wall Street Journal (0ctober 1 to 2) which discusses how children as young as three years old will readily formulate rules and establish them as norms not to be violated. (I thought of children formulating language “rules”.)

Gopnik cites a recent report in Psychological Science by Michael Tomasello, Michael Schmidt and others on experiments which showed children “are apt to see social rules and conventions even when they aren’t really there”. (The article is entitled “Young Children See a Single Action and Infer a Social Norm.”) For example, an experimenter would use a stick to push a toy forward. If a puppet then did the same thing, the children accepted this, but if a puppet did things differently from what the experimenter had done, the children protested—even though the experimenter had only pushed the toy with the stick one time.

Schmidt and Tomasello argue that children are “promiscuously normative”—that is, they tend to interpret even a single action as establishing a norm.

I can imagine three year olds eagerly seeking to detect conventions and rules of grammar.

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