Kate Harrigan · Is desire really easier than belief? Preschoolers’ Representations of the verb 'want'
The acquisition of attitude verbs has been a topic of interest to researchers in linguistics and psychology for many years. Attitude verbs are a subclass of verbs we use to talk about the contents of other people’s minds. There is a well-documented gap between two particular subclasses of attitude verbs: belief verbs and desire verbs. Many different studies have shown that children acquire the language of desire much sooner than that of belief. This asymmetry has been explained several ways, including conceptual differences between desire and belief, or syntactic differences between these two subclasses of verbs. I am interested in exploring an alternative hypothesis, looking at differences in the way belief and desire verbs have previously been tested. I will present two experiments that test children’s representation of the desire verb want in a way that is more similar to the way belief verbs (namely, think) have been tested in the past. The purpose of this work is to compare the language of belief and desire more fairly, to try to better understand this asymmetry in acquisition. Only when we have thoroughly tested children’s knowledge of desire verbs in a way that is comparable to belief verbs will we understand whether this asymmetry is representative the acquisition path of these subclasses of verbs, or whether it is an experimental artifact.