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Child Dev. 1990 Aug;61(4):929-45.

Inferring false beliefs from actions and reactions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University, CA 94305-2099.


Current evidence suggests that young children have little understanding of false belief. Standard false belief tasks, however, may underestimate children's ability for 2 reasons. First, the only cue to belief in these tasks is a protagonist's lack of perceptual access to some critical event, and this may not be a very salient cue for young children. Second, the standard tasks require children to make forward-looking predictions from the causes of a belief (e.g., from what a protagonist has or has not perceived) to either the protagonist's belief or the protagonist's action, and children may not be very skilled at making such predictions. In 2 experiments we investigated whether 3-year-olds would do better on tasks in which the belief cues were stronger, and in which they could reason backward to the belief from its effects (e.g., from a protagonist's actions and reactions). Even on these easy tasks, however, they did not perform well. These findings provide strong support for the view that children of this age do not fully understand the representational nature of belief.

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