Simulation theory posits that young children can deploy mental states, particularly desires and beliefs, to explain why people behave as they do (Goldman, 1992; Gordon, 1992; Harris, 1991, 1992). Simulation theorists argue that during the early childhood years children become increasing adept at using their own mental states as an analogue for how other people think and feel (Harris, 2000). Effectively, through mental simulation children put themselves in the place of others and then act accordingly.1 To engage in simulation children must be able to imagine a particular desire or belief and then imagine the ensuing outcome, i.e., the corresponding thoughts, actions, or emotions and, finally, attribute that outcome to other people (Harris, 1991).

Harris (1992) offers a developmental account of simulation by drawing on the known accomplishments of infants and young children (e.g., shared attention, visual perspective taking) that serve as precursors to understanding the mental states of others. He argues for a four step process, unfolding over the first 5 years, that involves (a) appreciating another person's "intentional stance" toward an object or event (e.g., shared attention between infant and parent); (b) regulating another person's intentional stance (e.g., changing the direction of a parent's gaze by pointing at a new object); (c) setting aside one's own intentional stance and recognizing the stance of others (e.g., recognizing that what other people see may be different from what you see); and (d) imagining an intentional stance toward counterfactual situations (e.g., the child imagines someone seeing/believing a situation that is opposite to her understanding of current reality).

Pretend role play is an obvious candidate to assist the process of simulation. Role play provides children with the opportunity "to imagine the world from the point of view of another person" (Harris, 2000, p. 48). The child who imagines she is a mother can tend to a crying baby just as an actual mother would; the child who pretends to be a pirate can plan a course of action to conceal a stolen treasure (Harris, 2000). Importantly for simulation theory, role play involves more than simply following well rehearsed scripts. In role play, children make their characters adapt to changing situations and to the responses (viewpoints, emotions) of their play partners (Harris, 2000).

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