Misrepresentation and referential confusion: Children's difficulty with false beliefs and outdated photographs

Abstract

Three and 4-year-old children were tested on matched versions of Zaitchik's (1990) photo task and Wimmer and Perner's (1983) false belief task. Although replicating Zaitchik's finding that false belief and photo task are of equal difficulty, this applied only to mean performance across subjects and no substantial correlation between the two tasks was found. This suggests that the two tasks tap different intellectual abilities. It was further discovered that children's performance can be improved by drawing their attention to the back of the photo but not by drawing attention to the person holding the false belief. Results are interpreted as showing that children's difficulty with the photo task is due to referential confusion about which scene the question refers to (the picture or reality) while the hurdle in the false belief task is to understand that the believer misrepresents reality.

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2009-01-28

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Josef Perner
University of Salzburg

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