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Implicit and explicit false belief development in preschool children

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Grosse Wiesmann,  Charlotte
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany;

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Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Steinbeis,  Nikolaus
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Leiden University, the Netherlands;

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Citation

Grosse Wiesmann, C., Friederici, A. D., Singer, T., & Steinbeis, N. (2017). Implicit and explicit false belief development in preschool children. Developmental Science, 20(5): e12445. doi:10.1111/desc.12445.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002A-1A21-F
Abstract
The ability to represent the mental states of other agents is referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM). A developmental breakthrough in ToM consists of understanding that others can have false beliefs about the world. Recently, infants younger than 2 years of age have been shown to pass novel implicit false belief tasks. However, the processes underlying these tasks and their relation to later-developing explicit false belief understanding, as well as to other cognitive abilities, are not yet understood. Here, we study a battery of implicit and explicit false belief tasks in 3- and 4-year-old children, relating their performance to linguistic abilities and executive functions. The present data show a significant developmental change from failing explicit false belief tasks at 3 years of age to passing them at the age of 4, while both age groups pass implicit false belief tasks. This differential developmental trajectory is reflected by the finding that explicit and implicit false belief tasks do not correlate. Further, we demonstrate that explicit false belief tasks correlate with syntactic and executive functions, whereas implicit false belief tasks do not. The study thus indicates that the processes underlying implicit false belief tasks are different from later-developing explicit false belief understanding. Moreover, our results speak for a critical role of syntactic and executive functions for passing standard explicit false belief tasks in contrast to implicit tasks.