Preschoolers' grasp of a desire for knowledge in false-belief prediction: Practical intelligence and verbal report

Freeman, N.H., Lewis, C and Doherty, Martin (2011) Preschoolers' grasp of a desire for knowledge in false-belief prediction: Practical intelligence and verbal report. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9 (1). pp. 139-157. ISSN 0261-510X

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Preschoolers often fail a false-belief test. Competing explanations have been offered from two perspectives: the theory of mind and the theory of reasons for action. A concept which unifies the two has been overlooked—the concept of a ‘need to know’, whereby someone has a reason for directing actions to the goal of forming a mental representation. Current tests that present the actor as a passive information user rather than an active information collector might underestimate preschoolers' conception of psychology. In Expt 1, a theory of mind test presented a false belief as the outcome of an actor's plan of action involving her need to know something. Preschoolers showed 85 per cent success when the test took the form of hide-and-seek, whilst success in a standard false-belief test was 48 per cent. In Expts 2 and 4 it was found that success was not due to a low level heuristic: in the former, asking children to act out the plan of action gave 94 per cent success compared with 66 per cent from a modified standard task. Success from conventional verbal questioning was reliably lower. Further probes revealed flexibility; in a true-belief test children recognized that the actor's plan would succeed, and in an ignorance test (Expt 3) they showed understanding that the seeker would not know where to search. We suggest that traditional tests underestimate preschoolers in two ways. One is in neglecting practical intelligence in favour of verbal questioning. The other is in challenging them with tests which pose an inferential problem about the intentionality of the actor and thus disturb children's ‘intentional stance’. Traditional tests reveal an important limitation on preschoolers' use of a theory of mind but not an organizational gap in their construction of psychology.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Social Sciences > Research Groups > Developmental Science
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2015 12:01
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2021 04:35
DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.1991.tb00867.x

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