- Study shows children as young as 18 months old can see the world from another's perspective
- It was previously believed that this ability only emerges by the ages of four to seven
- Study also shows that the development of the ability occurs at the same time across cultures
Infants as young as 18 months old can guess what other people are thinking, a new study claims.
A study of children from rural China, Ecuador and Fiji found that their ability to see the world from others' perspectives emerges much earlier than previously thought.
It was previously thought that this ability to empathise only emerges in children between the ages of four and seven, but children from different countries develop it at different ages.
The team from the University of California, Los Angelese used a form of the false-belief test - which is one of the few cognitive tasks that youngsters can do that primates cannot.
In the classic version of the test, one person comes into a room and places an object like a pair of scissors into a hiding place. A second researcher then enters and puts the scissors in his pocket.
When the first person returns, researchers ask the child: 'Where do you think the first person will look for the scissors.'
The task evaluates whether children have developed a theory of mind, which is an ability to understand the perspectives of other people - in this case that of the person who doesn't know where his scissors have gone.
Children in Western countries usually start to give the correct answer - that the person will look in the original hiding place - by the ages of four to seven, but children in other countries give that answer at different ages.
But noting previous studies that showed children seemed to understand the concept earlier if researchers tracked youngsters' eye movements rather than directly asking the question, the UCLA team decided to investigate whether cultural differences in dealing with adults could be obscuring the cognitive leap.