On the Long Road to Mentalism in Children’s Spontaneous False-Belief Understanding: Are We There Yet?

Article

Abstract

We review recent anticipatory looking and violation-of-expectancy studies suggesting that infants and young preschoolers have spontaneous (implicit) understanding of mind despite their known problems until later in life on elicited (explicit) tests of false-belief reasoning. Straightforwardly differentiating spontaneous and elicited expressions of complex mental state understanding in relation to an implicit-explicit knowledge framework may be challenging; early action predictions may be based on behavior rules that are complementary to the mentalistic attributions under consideration. We discuss that the way forward for diagnosing early mentalism is to analyze whether young candidate mind-readers’ visual orienting cohere across different belief-formation by belief-use combinations. Adopting this formal cognitive analysis, we conclude that whilst some studies come tantalizingly close to sign-posting mentalism in infants and young children’s spontaneous responses, the bulk of evidence for early mentalism grades into behaviorism.

References

  1. Apperly, I. 2011. Mindreaders: The cognitive basis of “theory of mind”. Hove: Psychology.Google Scholar
  2. Apperly, I.A., and S.A. Butterfill. 2009. Do humans have two systems to track beliefs and belief-like states? Psychological Review 116: 953–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baillargeon, R., S.M. Scott, and Z. He. 2010. False-belief understanding in infants. Trends in Cognitive Science 14: 110–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buttelmann, D., M. Carpenter, and M. Tomasello. 2009. Eighteen-month-olds show false beliefs understanding in an active helping paradigm. Cognition 112: 337–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clements, W.A. 1995. Implicit theories of mind. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Sussex.Google Scholar
  6. Clements, W.A., and J. Perner. 1994. Implicit understanding of belief. Cognitive Development 9: 377–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Csibra, G., and V. Southgate. 2006. Evidence for infants’ understanding of false beliefs should not be dismissed. Trends in Cognitive Science 10: 4–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gopnik, A., and J.W. Astington. 1988. Children’s understanding of representational change and its relation to the understanding of false belief and the appearance-reality distinction. Child Development 59: 26–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. He, Z., M. Bolz, and R. Baillargeon. 2011. False-belief understanding in 2.5-year-olds: Evidence from change-of-location and unexpected-contents violation-of-expectation tasks. Developmental Science 14: 292–305.Google Scholar
  10. Kovács, A.M., E. Téglás, and A.D. Endress. 2010. The social sense: Susceptibility to others’ beliefs in human infants and adults. Science 330: 1830–1834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Leslie, A.M. 2005. Developmental parallels in understanding minds and bodies. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9: 459–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Low, J. 2010. Preschoolers’ implicit and explicit false-belief understanding: Relations with complex syntactical mastery. Child Development 81: 579–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Low, J., and S. Simpson. 2011. Effects of labeling on preschoolers’ explicit false-belief performance: Outcomes of cognitive flexibility or inhibitory control? Child Development.Google Scholar
  14. Moses, L.J. 2001. Executive accounts of theory of mind development. Child Development 72: 688–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Newton, A.M., and J.G. de Villiers. 2007. Thinking while talking: Adults fail nonverbal false belief reasoning. Psychological Science 18: 574–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Onishi, K.H., and R. Baillargeon. 2005. Do 15-month-old infants understand false beliefs? Science 308: 214–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Perner, J. 2010. Who took the cog out of cognitive science? Mentalism in an era of anti-cognitivism. In Perception, attention, and action: International perspectives on psychological science (Volume 1), ed. P.A. Frensch & R. Schwarzer, 241–261. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  18. Perner, J. 2011. Theory of mind—an unintelligent design: From behaviour to teleology and perspective. In Handbook of theory of mind, ed. A.M. Leslie and T.C. German. NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Perner, J., and T. Ruffman. 2005. Infants’ insight into the mind: How deep? Science 308: 214–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ruffman, T., W. Garnham, A. Import, and D. Connolly. 2001. Does eye gaze indicate implicit knowledge of false belief? Charting transitions in knowledge. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 80: 201–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sabbagh, M.A., F. Xu, S.M. Carlson, L.J. Moses, and K. Lee. 2006. The development of executive functioning and theory of mind. Psychological Science 17: 74–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Samson, D., I.A. Apperly, J.J. Braithwaite, B.J. Andrews, and S.E. Bodley Scott. 2010. Seeing it their way: Evidence for rapid and involuntary computation of what other people see. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 36: 1255–1266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Scott, R.M., and R. Baillargeon. 2009. Which penguin is this? Attributing false beliefs about identity at 18 months. Child Development 80: 1172–1196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Scott, R.M., R. Baillargeon, H. Song, and A.M. Leslie. 2010. Attributing false beliefs about non-obvious properties at 18 months. Cognitive Psychology 61: 366–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Senju, A., V. Southgate, C. Snape, M. Leonard, and G. Csibra. 2011. Do 18-month-olds really attribute mental states to others? A critical test. Psychological Science.Google Scholar
  26. Song, H., and R. Baillargeon. 2008. Infants’ reasoning about others’ false perceptions. Developmental Psychology 44: 1789–1795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Song, H., K.H. Onishi, R. Baillargeon, and C. Fisher. 2008. Can an agent’s false belief be corrected through an appropriate communication? Psychological reasoning in 18-month-old infants. Cognition 109: 295–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Southgate, V., A. Senju, and G. Csibra. 2007. Action anticipation through attribution of false belief by 2-year-olds. Psychological Science 18: 587–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Southgate, V., C. Chevallier, and G. Csibra. 2010. Seventeen-month-olds appeal to false beliefs to interpret others’ referential communication. Developmental Science 13: 907–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Surian, L., S. Caldi, and D. Sperber. 2007. Attribution of beliefs by 13-month-old infants. Psychological Science 18: 580–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Träuble, B., V. Marinović, and S. Pauen. 2010. Early theory of mind competencies: Do infants understand others’ belief? Infancy 15: 434–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wang, B., J. Low, J. Zhang, and Q. Qinghua. 2011a. Chinese preschoolers’ implicit and explicit false-belief understanding. British Journal of Developmental Psychology: Special Issue on Implicit-Explicit False-Belief Understanding. Google Scholar
  33. Wang, B., J. Low, J. Zhang, and Q. Qinghua. 2011b. Chinese 3-year-olds show coherent false-belief anticipatory looking across different belief-formation and belief-use task combinations. Manuscript in preparation. Google Scholar
  34. Wellman, H.M., D. Cross, and J. Watson. 2001. Meta-analysis of theory-of-mind development: The truth about false belief. Child Development 72: 655–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Whiten, A. 1996. When does smart behavior-reading become mind-reading? In Theories of theories of mind, ed. P. Carruthers and P.K. Smith, 277–292. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wimmer, H., and H. Mayringer. 1998. False belief understanding in young children: Explanations do not develop before predictions. International Journal of Behavioral Development 22: 403–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations