From actors to agents to persons: the development of character representation in young children's narratives

Ageliki Nicolopoulou, Elizabeth S Richner
Child Development 2007, 78 (2): 412-29
This study addressed a puzzling discrepancy in existing research about when children achieve and manifest a mentalistic conception of the person. Narrative research suggests that children do not represent characters as mental agents until middle childhood, whereas social cognition research places this understanding at around 4 years. Using a theoretically informed typology, 617 stories were analyzed composed by 30 children participating in a storytelling and story-acting practice integrated into their preschool curriculum. Results indicated that children's representation of characters shifted from almost exclusively physical and external portrayals of "actors" at 3 to increasing inclusion of "agents" with rudimentary mental states at 4 and of "persons" with mental representational capacities by 5. The developmental trajectories of boys and girls differed somewhat.


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