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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 30;280(1755):20122654. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2654. Print 2013 Mar 22.

Early false-belief understanding in traditional non-Western societies.

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UCLA Department of Anthropology, 341 Haines Hall Box 951552, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


The psychological capacity to recognize that others may hold and act on false beliefs has been proposed to reflect an evolved, species-typical adaptation for social reasoning in humans; however, controversy surrounds the developmental timing and universality of this trait. Cross-cultural studies using elicited-response tasks indicate that the age at which children begin to understand false beliefs ranges from 4 to 7 years across societies, whereas studies using spontaneous-response tasks with Western children indicate that false-belief understanding emerges much earlier, consistent with the hypothesis that false-belief understanding is a psychological adaptation that is universally present in early childhood. To evaluate this hypothesis, we used three spontaneous-response tasks that have revealed early false-belief understanding in the West to test young children in three traditional, non-Western societies: Salar (China), Shuar/Colono (Ecuador) and Yasawan (Fiji). Results were comparable with those from the West, supporting the hypothesis that false-belief understanding reflects an adaptation that is universally present early in development.

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