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Child Dev. 1996 Dec;67(6):2967-88.

Conceptual coherence in the child's theory of mind: training children to understand belief.

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  • 1University of California, Berkeley, USA.


Intuitive theories are defined as coherently interrelated systems of concepts that generate explanations and predictions in a particular domain of experience. 2 studies tested whether the child's theory of mind can be characterized as an intuitive theory. In Study 1, 3-year-old children who did not pass a false belief pretest were trained in 2 groups: (1) on the concept of belief, or (2) on the related concepts of desire and perception. Training took place over 2 weeks, with children given mental state tasks and receiving feedback according to their performance. Both training groups showed improved false belief performance on the posttest, compared to a control group trained on number conservation. This result is interpreted as demonstrating coherence in the child's theory of mind. In Study 2, these findings were repeated and expanded: training on belief as well as training on desire and perception resulted in improved performance on a variety of standard theory of mind posttests. Results are discussed with respect to competing theories of children's intuitive psychological knowledge.

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