Two-and-a-half-year-olds succeed at a traditional false-belief task with reduced processing demands
Scott, Rose M.
Date of Issue2016
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
When tested with traditional false-belief tasks, which require answering a standard question about the likely behavior of an agent with a false belief, children perform below chance until age 4 y or later. When tested without such questions, however, children give evidence of false-belief understanding much earlier. Are traditional tasks difficult because they tap a more advanced form of false-belief understanding (fundamental-change view) or because they impose greater processing demands (processing-demands view)? Evidence that young children succeed at traditional false-belief tasks when processing demands are reduced would support the latter view. In prior research, reductions in inhibitory-control demands led to improvements in young children’s performance, but often only to chance (instead of below-chance) levels. Here we examined whether further reductions in processing demands might lead to success. We speculated that: (i) young children could respond randomly in a traditional low-inhibition task because their limited information-processing resources are overwhelmed by the total concurrent processing demands in the task; and (ii) these demands include those from the response-generation process activated by the standard question. This analysis suggested that 2.5-y-old toddlers might succeed at a traditional low-inhibition task if response-generation demands were also reduced via practice trials. As predicted, toddlers performed above chance following two response-generation practice trials; toddlers failed when these trials either were rendered less effective or were used in a high-inhibition task. These results support the processing-demands view: Even toddlers succeed at a traditional false-belief task when overall processing demands are reduced.
Theory of mind
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
© 2016 The Author(s) (Published by National Academy of Sciences). This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, The Author(s) (Published by National Academy of Sciences). It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1609203113].