Can task modifications influence children’s performance on false belief tasks?

Emma L. Brown, Rebecca Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Theory of mind (ToM) is commonly measured in young children by the false belief task. Many researchers claim that 3-year-olds' failure on false belief tasks is due to task constraints. Experiment 1 empirically tested the claim made by Wellman, Cross, and Watson (2001), that even when variables that enhance performance on the false belief task (deception; participation in transformation; salience; and item not real and present) are included in one task, 3-year-olds will still fail to perform above chance level. On the standard task 4-year-olds did perform significantly better than 3-year-olds, although there was no significant difference on the adapted task. Compared to the standard task, 3-year-olds performed better on the adapted task, although this improvement was not significant and performance was still not above chance level. Experiment 2 examined the influence of two additional variables; presence of protagonist at the time when the false belief question is asked, and the order in which test questions are asked (memory preceding false belief or vice versa). Results found no significant effects of either presence of the protagonist or question order on the performance of participants. Results are discussed with reference to reasons behind the failure of some children on false belief tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-292
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Developmental Psychology, The
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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