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J Exp Child Psychol. 2001 Nov;80(3):201-24.

Does eye gaze indicate implicit knowledge of false belief? Charting transitions in knowledge.

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Experimental Psychology, East Sussex, United Kingdom.


Three-year-olds sometimes look to the correct location but give an incorrect verbal answer in a false belief task. We examined whether correct eye gaze among 3- to 5-year-old children indexed unconscious knowledge or low confidence conscious knowledge. Children "bet" counters on where they thought a story character would go. If children were conscious of the knowledge conveyed by their eye gaze then they should have bet modestly on their explicit answer (i.e., been unsure whether this answer or the answer conveyed through eye direction was correct). We found that children bet very highly on the location consistent with their explicit answer, suggesting that they were not aware of the knowledge conveyed through their eye gaze. This result was supported by a number of conditions that showed that betting was a sensitive measure of even small degrees of uncertainty. The results shed light on false-belief understanding, the implicit-explicit distinction, and transitional knowledge. We argue that the transition to a full understanding of false belief is marked by periods of implicit knowledge and explicit understanding with low confidence.

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