Mental files and belief: A cognitive theory of how children represent belief and its intensionality

Cognition 145 (C):77-88 (2015)
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Abstract

We provide a cognitive analysis of how children represent belief using mental files. We explain why children who pass the false belief test are not aware of the intensionality of belief. Fifty-one 3½- to 7-year old children were familiarized with a dual object, e.g., a ball that rattles and is described as a rattle. They observed how a puppet agent witnessed the ball being put into box 1. In the agent’s absence the ball was taken from box 1, the child was reminded of it being a rattle, and emphasising its being a rattle it was put back into box 1. Then the agent returned, the object was hidden in the experimenter’s hands and removed from box 1, described as a ‘‘rattle,” and transferred to box 2. Children who passed false belief had no problem saying where the puppet would look for the ball. However, in a different condition in which the agent was also shown that the ball was a rattle they erroneously said that the agent would look for the ball in box 1, ignoring the agent’s knowledge of the identity of rattle and ball. Their problems cease with their mastery of second-order beliefs. Problems also vanish when the ball is described not as a rattle but as a thing that rattles. We describe how our theory can account for these data as well as all other relevant data in the literature

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Author Profiles

Josef Perner
University of Salzburg
Brian Leahy
Harvard University

Citations of this work

The New Fiction View of Models.Fiora Salis - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (3):717-742.
Metacognitive Development and Conceptual Change in Children.Joulia Smortchkova & Nicholas Shea - 2020 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (4):745-763.
Young Children's Conceptions of Knowledge.Rachel Dudley - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 13 (6):e12494.

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