Perceptual access reasoning: developmental stage or system 1 heuristic?

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 15 (2):207-226 (2016)
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In contrast with the two dominant views in Theory of Mind development, the Perceptual Access Reasoning hypothesis of Fabricius and colleagues is that children don’t understand the mental state of belief until around 6 years of age. Evidence for this includes data that many children ages 4 and 5, who pass the standard 2-location false belief task, nonetheless fail the true belief task, and often fail a 3-location false belief task by choosing the irrelevant option. These findings can be explained by the PAR hypothesis but pose challenges for the two dominant views. I argue against an alternate hypothesis which is proposed by Anika Fiebich in a recent paper. According to Fiebich, PAR is not a distinct transitional stage in children’s theory of mind development, but is a fast and frugal System 1 heuristic which fades once children become fluent in social reasoning. However, I point out a number of problems with Fiebich’s proposal and argue for the superiority of the PAR hypothesis. I also present five reasons to be skeptical about the findings of Perner and Horn which purportedly show that 4- and 5-year-olds can pass the 3-location false belief task when suitably modified. This is a further difficulty for Fiebich’s proposal, since she relies on these findings in her fluency theory. Finally, I sketch a dual systems theory of mind account based upon the PAR hypothesis which is different from Fiebich’s.



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Joseph Hedger
Syracuse University

References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Inquiries Into Truth And Interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The origin of concepts.Susan Carey - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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