“Believe it, or Not? Explaining why children fail the standard false belief task” by Robert Thompson, Rice University.
ABSTRACT: It is not widely discussed, especially among philosophers of cognitive science, that children before the age of four can pass simpler versions of False Belief Tasks. There has been little discussion (and no consensus) about how to characterize the understanding these younger children manifest in these tasks. Success on these tasks, on the face of it, need not trouble the orthodox interpretation of the Standard False Belief Task (SFBT); these children simply understand the representational nature of belief, and hence, master the full-blown concept of belief, at an earlier age than commonly thought. Recent results have shown, however, that children as young as 13 months of age can pass such simplified tasks, and I think there are good reasons not to attribute mastery of the full- blown concept of belief to children at this age. Based on this evidence, I will argue that the abilities of these young children provide a serious challenge to the orthodox interpretation of the SFBT, and that we need a different analysis of the mindreading abilities of children at all of these ages. The major change that allows the child to pass the SFBT is not, I will claim, understanding the representational nature of belief. I propose an alternative analysis of the developmental data, stressing that understanding beliefs should be distinguished from mastering the full-blown concept of belief, and that the latter may involve capacities that go well beyond what has been described traditionally as aspects of ToM.