Children’s first and second-order false-belief reasoning in a verbal and a low-verbal task

Synthese 191 (3) (2014)
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We can understand and act upon the beliefs of other people, even when these conflict with our own beliefs. Children’s development of this ability, known as Theory of Mind, typically happens around age 4. Research using a looking-time paradigm, however, established that toddlers at the age of 15 months old pass a non-verbal false-belief task (Onishi and Baillargeon in Science 308:255–258, 2005). This is well before the age at which children pass any of the verbal false-belief tasks. In this study we present a more complex case of false-belief reasoning with older children. We tested second-order reasoning, probing children’s ability to handle the belief of one person about the belief of another person. We find just the opposite: 7-year-olds pass a verbal false-belief reasoning task, but fail on an equally complex low-verbal task. This finding suggests that language supports explicit reasoning about beliefs, perhaps by facilitating the cognitive system to keep track of beliefs attributed by people to other people.



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