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Dev Sci. 2011 Mar;14(2):292-305.

False-belief understanding i 2.5-year-olds: evidence for violation-of-expectation change-of-location and unexpected-contents tasks.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820, USA.


Until recently, it was generally assumed that the ability to attribute false beliefs did not emerge until about 4 years of age. However, recent reports using spontaneous- as opposed to elicited-response tasks have suggested that this ability may be present much earlier. To date, researchers have employed two kinds of spontaneous-response false-belief tasks: violation-of-expectation tasks have been used with infants in the second year of life, and anticipatory-looking tasks have been used with toddlers in the third year of life. In the present research, 2.5-year-old toddlers were tested in violation-of-expectation tasks involving a change-of-location situation (Experiment 1) and an unexpected-contents situation (Experiment 2). Results were positive in both situations, providing the first demonstrations of false-belief understanding in toddlers using violation-of-expectation tasks and, as such, pointing to a consistent and continuous picture of early false-belief understanding.

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