Prior to the age of five, children appear to experience time in a different manner. They are perfectly capable of ‘forgetting’ events that they experienced a minute ago, as well as their mental state when the experience occurred. They seem to think associatively, closer perhaps to the hypnagogic state that one drifts into just before falling asleep, than to one that is ordered around a timeline with a past, present, and future. Gopnik attempts to penetrate what this different form of consciousness is like. She describes a ‘false belief’ experiment in which children see a closed candy box that, in fact, is filled with pencils: ‘The children are understandably both surprised and disappointed by this discovery. But then we asked what they thought was in the box when they first saw it. Although they had discovered the truth with great surprise only moments before, they still said that they had always known the box was full of pencils. They had entirely forgotten their earlier false belief.’ This is why young children are so perilously suggestible, and their testimony, in most cases, should be inadmissible in court. They have excellent detailed memories when they are cued to remember a specific event with a leading question, but free recall is alien to them because it is dependent on an internal consciousness that they don’t yet fully possess.

Prior to the age of five, children appear to experience time in a different manner. They are perfectly capable of ‘forgetting’ events that they experienced a minute ago, as well as their mental state when the experience occurred. They seem to think associatively, closer perhaps to the hypnagogic state that one drifts into just before falling asleep, than to one that is ordered around a timeline with a past, present, and future. Gopnik attempts to penetrate what this different form of consciousness is like. She describes a ‘false belief’ experiment in which children see a closed candy box that, in fact, is filled with pencils: ‘The children are understandably both surprised and disappointed by this discovery. But then we asked what they thought was in the box when they first saw it. Although they had discovered the truth with great surprise only moments before, they still said that they had always known the box was full of pencils. They had entirely forgotten their earlier false belief.’ This is why young children are so perilously suggestible, and their testimony, in most cases, should be inadmissible in court. They have excellent detailed memories when they are cued to remember a specific event with a leading question, but free recall is alien to them because it is dependent on an internal consciousness that they don’t yet fully possess.
What Babies Know and We Don’t – The New York Review of Books

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