Children's picture interpretation: Appearance or Intention?

Emma Armitage, Melissa Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Pictures are defined by their creator?s intentions and resemblance to their real world referents. Here we examine whether young children follow a realist route (e.g., focusing on how closely pictures resemble their referents) or intentional route (e.g., focusing on what a picture is intended to represent by its artist) when identifying a picture?s referent. In 3 experiments, we contrasted an artist?s intention with her picture?s appearance to investigate children?s use of appearance and intentional cues. In Experiment 1, children aged 3?4 and 5?6 years (N = 151) were presented with 4 trials of 3-object arrays (e.g., a pink duck, a blue duck, and a teddy). The experimenter photographed or drew 1 of the objects (e.g., blue duck), however, the subsequent picture depicted the referent in grayscale (black and white condition) or the color of its shape-matched object, for example, a pink duck (color change condition). Children were asked 3 questions regarding the identity of the pictures; responses were guided by intentional cues in the black and white condition, but appearance in the color change condition. Experiment 2 confirmed that appearance responses were not due to the artist?s changing knowledge state. Experiment 3 replicated the results of Experiment 1 with adult participants. Together, these studies show that children and adults are neither strictly realist nor intentional route followers. They are realists until resemblance cues fail, at which point they defer to intentional cues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1215
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015

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This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

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