John Hurley Flavell

Stanford University
Psychologist; Educator
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Psychological Sciences


John H. Flavell is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Flavell is a founder of social cognitive developmental psychology. Through the discovery of new developmental phenomena and analysis of the theories of Jean Piaget, Flavell shifted the direction of developmental psychology in the United States. His research on "role-taking," the cognitive skills that children require in order to understand and accept the roles of others, was a major contribution to developmental psychology. He conducted extensive research into metacognition and the child's theory of mind. One of his most famous contributions to the field is his work on children's developing understanding of the distinction between appearance and reality. These studies assessed young children's ability to acknowledge that a given object is really one kind of thing, yet appears to be another kind of thing, or that a given piece of material is really one color, yet appears to be another color under particular circumstances. Flavell and his colleagues have found that whereas most three-year-olds fail these tasks, five-year-olds and older four-year-olds succeed on them. Flavell interprets this developmental difference as suggesting that children acquire the notion of mental representation of reality as distinct from reality itself. The appearance-reality paradigm, along with the false-belief task, is widely used as diagnostic of theory of mind development during early childhood. Flavell's other work has addressed children's developing understanding of perception, perspective-taking, and their introspective insight into their own subjective experiences. He served as president of the Society for Research in Child Development from 1979 to 1981.

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