Children Use Probability to Infer Other People’s Happiness

AbstractThe ability to infer other people’s emotions is an important aspect of children’s social cognition. Here, we examined whether 4- to 6-year-olds use probability to infer other people’s happiness. Children saw a scenario where a girl receives two desired and two undesired gumballs from a gumball machine and were asked to rate how the girl feels about this outcome. Children either saw the gumballs come from a machine that had mostly desired gumballs or a machine that had mostly undesired gumballs. Five- and 6-year-olds rated the girl as being happier when the gumballs came from a machine that had mostly undesired gumballs. Four-year-olds, on the other hand, rated the girl’s happiness similarly regardless of whether the machine held mostly desired or undesired gumballs. These findings show that by the age of 5, children use probability to infer happiness. Further, they demonstrate that children understand that our happiness with an outcome depends on whether a better or worse outcome was initially more likely.

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