The Importance of Origins: Why Cognitive Development is Central to a Mature Understanding of Social Cognition

Y. Dunham2, K.R. Olson1, *
1 Psychological Sciences, University of California, Merced
2 Department of Psychology, Yale University, USA

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© 2008 Dunham and Olson.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Psychological Sciences, University of California Merced. PO Box 2039, Merced, CA 95344, USA; Tel: 209-225-4549; Fax: 209-228-4007; E-mail:


The overwhelming majority of work in social cognition has focused on adults, what can be called end-state social cognition. We argue that development (and especially cognitive development) can provide a theoretical and methodological tool to advance the study of social cognition. Developmental psychology can offer unique insight into the origin of end-state processes, providing insight into how they develop from simpler components and thus serving as constraints to theoretical models of end-state social cognition. We provide examples of 1) areas where existing developmental research offers potential insight into our understanding of adult processes, 2) areas where new developmental research can directly address theoretical debates in social cognition, and 3) a case study of one successful, extant bridge between development and social cognition. Finally, we comment more generally on both the promise and potential pitfalls of an integrated social- developmental approach to social cognition.