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Psychol Sci. 2013 Jan 1;24(1):27-33. doi: 10.1177/0956797612447819. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

How to pass the false-belief task before your fourth birthday.

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Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, 2 Wakefield St., London, United Kingdom.


The experimental record of the last three decades shows that children under 4 years old fail all sorts of variations on the standard false-belief task, whereas more recent studies have revealed that infants are able to pass nonverbal versions of the task. We argue that these paradoxical results are an artifact of the type of false-belief tasks that have been used to test infants and children: Nonverbal designs allow infants to keep track of a protagonist's perspective over a course of events, whereas verbal designs tend to disrupt the perspective-tracking process in various ways, which makes it too hard for younger children to demonstrate their capacity for perspective tracking. We report three experiments that confirm this hypothesis by showing that 3-year-olds can pass a suitably streamlined version of the verbal false-belief task. We conclude that young children can pass the verbal false-belief task provided that they are allowed to keep track of the protagonist's perspective without too much disruption.

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