The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Feb 18, 2010

I Have A Cunning Plan

I took the tyke to the barber's the other day. He's been there before. The barber likes him, and he invariably gets away with a lollipop.

The wife has impressed upon him that it's not nice to ask for lollies. If he's given one, he can have it. But he shouldn't ask for treats.

As soon as we walk in the door of the salon, the tyke says, "My amma said I should not ask for a lolly."

The barber looks taken aback for a moment. His English is not very good, and I suspect he thinks the boy is asking for a sweet. So he grabs his sweets-box, fishes out a lolly, and gives it to the little chap.

I wonder now - is it a stealthy ploy on the part of the boy? He looked innocent enough when he spoke. When I chide him, he says he is sorry. Then he says, "Please don't tell amma."

When I look back upon my own youthful days of low cunning, I recall being as devious only after I turned eight years of age. The wife informs me that in the scales of skullduggery, I clearly come up short. She is pleased to inform me that her wiles began much earlier. When she was four or five, in fact. Her tales do not bear repeating.

According to studies of developmental behaviour, there are stages in a child's progress towards full-fledged hypocrisy, deviousness, and empathy. Here's an excerpt from a paper by O. Chesnokova and E. Subbotsky that explains why, if a child is clever, he or she is not immediately cunning. (This cunning is a manifestation of Social Intelligence (SI))
What is needed to have the SI mind?

(1) Understanding that people’s minds are private (that adults cannot peep straight into the child’s mind and see what’s in it). This comes at the age of about 3 years (Estes, Wellman & Woolley, 1989)
(2) Understanding that other people can have false beliefs (i.e., they would believe that the deceptive perspective and the child’s own perspective are the same). This is achieved at the age of about 4 years (Perner, 1992)
(3) Understanding that others can have false beliefs about beliefs (the 2nd order beliefs). This is acquired at the age of 5 (Sallivan et al., 1994)
My imp doesn't usually tell tales to clear himself of wrongdoing. He is, in fact, disarmingly honest most of the time (I think). Does this mean that his social intelligence is not sufficiently developed? Or has he been cleverly pulling the wool over my eyes all this time?

Either way, should I be worried?


Veena said...

Hang on, didn't he tell the babysitter that his mum sings to him every night in an attempt to get her to provide some entertainment? Disarming definitely but honest?!

Fëanor said...

True. Forgot about that. He is diabolically devious. I'm so screwed.

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