Can We Forget What We Know in a False‐Belief Task? An Investigation of the True‐Belief Default

Cognitive Science 41 (1):218-241 (2017)
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It has been generally assumed in the Theory of Mind literature of the past 30 years that young children fail standard false-belief tasks because they attribute their own knowledge to the protagonist. Contrary to the traditional view, we have recently proposed that the children's bias is task induced. This alternative view was supported by studies showing that 3 year olds are able to pass a false-belief task that allows them to focus on the protagonist, without drawing their attention to the target object in the test phase. For a more accurate comparison of these two accounts, the present study tested the true-belief default with adults. Four experiments measuring eye movements and response inhibition revealed that adults do not have an automatic tendency to respond to the false-belief question according to their own knowledge and the true-belief response need not be inhibited in order to correctly predict the protagonist's actions. The positive results observed in the control conditions confirm the accuracy of the various measures used. I conclude that the results of this study undermine the true-belief default view and those models that posit mechanisms of response inhibition in false-belief reasoning. Alternatively, the present study with adults and recent studies with children suggest that participants' focus of attention in false-belief tasks may be key to their performance.



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