There is controversy over how well children understand pretense. One possibility is that for young children, pretense is not a mental state but is merely an external manifestation. If so, young children would think inanimates can pretend, because inanimates can be like other entities. Four experiments tested this. When shown pictured items, 4-year-olds understood that only animates pretend, but 3-year-olds sometimes claimed that inanimates pretend. However, when shown the actual items, even 4- year-aids sometimes claimed that inanimates pretend. This was particularly the case when adults explicitly pointed out that the objects looked or acted like something else. Children's errors were fairly specific to pretense in that they did not tend to attribute thinking to inanimates.
Lillard, Angeline S.; Zeljo, Alexandra; Curenton, Stephanie; and Kaugars, Astrida S.
"Children's Understanding of the
Animacy Constraint on Pretense,"
Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Vol. 46
, Article 3.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/mpq/vol46/iss1/3