How children approach the false belief test: social development, pragmatics, and the assembly of Theory of Mind

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 21 (1):181-201 (2022)
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Abstract

Evidence from the knowledge access task and the diverse belief task suggests that, before age four, children may find it difficult to attribute false beliefs to others, despite demonstrating a basic comprehension of the concept of belief. Challenging this view, this article assumes a sociopragmatic perspective on language to argue that even children younger than four may not understand at all the concept of belief but may nevertheless master naïvely the pragmatics of belief reports in specific conversational contexts. The proposal suggests a novel interpretation of both the reasons behind younger children’s difficulty with (elicited-response) false belief tasks, and the critical factors enabling children’s success in them. On the one hand, it proposes that younger children fail (elicited-response) false belief tasks because they do not understand the importance of focusing on an agent’s (verbally ascribed) mental states to infer her practical commitments. On the other hand, it suggests that children’s active engagement in conversations where the caregiver credits an agent with a belief is the critical factor integrating their initially scattered mastery of the pragmatics of belief reports, teaches them to track belief reports across contexts, and accordingly shapes their understanding of belief as a representational mental state.

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Marco Fenici
Università degli Studi di Firenze

Citations of this work

False-belief task know-how: Author.Alan Jurgens - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-22.

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References found in this work

Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?David Premack & G. Woodruff - 1978 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4 (4):515-629.
Empiricism and the philosophy of mind.Wilfrid S. Sellars - 1956 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 1:253-329.

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