Don’t Mention the Marble! The Role of Attentional Processes in False-Belief Tasks

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 7 (4):835-850 (2016)
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In the last 30 years, the key issue in developmental Theory of Mind has been if and when children are capable of representing false beliefs. Moving away from this research question, the aim of this study was to investigate the role of attentional processes in false-belief tasks. We focused on the design of the test phase and investigated two factors that may be critical for 3-year-old children’s success: the form of the wh-question and the salience of the target object. The results of two experiments confirmed that 3-year olds are able to explicitly choose the correct answer in a false-belief task provided that they are allowed to focus on the protagonist throughout the task. The salience of the target object, however, was a critical factor in the design of the test phase, as increasing it had a negative effect on children’s performance. These results suggest that the experimental record of the last 30 years may be skewed since standard false-belief tasks do not control for the relative salience of the wrong response, potentially hindering the performance of children under 4. We conclude that a careful investigation of performance factors in false-belief tasks has the potential to reveal deep insights into the development of Theory of Mind skills, even if not directly focused on children’s representation of beliefs.



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Author Profiles

Bart Geurts
Radboud University Nijmegen
Paula Rubio-Fernandez
University of Oslo

Citations of this work

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