Why We Start Understanding Others at Age 4

Health Research
Last Updated Jul 22, 2020
Health Research

A new study has discovered that we only start understanding other people when we’re four years old. That’s the age when we’re suddenly able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

The Universiteit Leiden study found that when we reach the ripe old age of four, we start understanding how others think. More remarkable, we begin to realise that they have a different view of the world than we do.

Published in Nature Communications journal, the study found that when we turn four, an important fibre connection in the brain reaches a major maturity milestone.

What’s more fascinating is how the discovery was made:

Like pencils for chocolate

The researchers showed a three-year-old a chocolate box. But inside the box were pencils, not sweets. They asked the child, “What would another child expect to find in the box?” And the child answered, “Pencils.”

But when they asked a four-year-old the same question, the child understood that another child would hope there were chocolates in the chocolate box.

So, between three and four, we reach a big step in our development: attributing certain thoughts and beliefs to other people, and understanding that they may feel differently to us. At this point, we develop a Theory of Mind.

What’s happening in the brain?

Why does this occur? In the brain, there’s a structure called the ‘arcuate fascicle’. Between ages three and four, the fibres in this structure mature. They then make a connection between two brain regions: in the temporal love where adult thinking about others develops, and a spot in the frontal lobe that promotes
abstract thought.

When this connection is made, children suddenly see the real world – and how others feel and think.

So if you have children, you might like to observe their development between ages three and four – and even run the chocolate experiment yourself. Although, you might have to put up with a few tears!

Originally published on Apr 07, 2017

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills… There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind… So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. — MARCUS AURELIUS