Do complement clauses really support false-belief reasoning?:A longitudinal study with English-speaking 2- to 3-year-olds

Boeg Thomsen, Ditte and Theakston, Anna and Kandemirci, Birsu and Brandt, Silke (2021) Do complement clauses really support false-belief reasoning?:A longitudinal study with English-speaking 2- to 3-year-olds. Developmental Psychology, 57 (8). pp. 1210-1227. ISSN 0012-1649

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To examine whether children’s acquisition of perspective-marking language supports development in their ability to reason about mental states, we conducted a longitudinal study testing whether proficiency with complement clauses around age three explained variance in false-belief reasoning six months later. 45 English-speaking 2-and-3-year-olds (23 female, Time 1 age range: 33-41 months) from middle-class families in the North-West of England took part in the study, which addresses a series of uncertainties in previous studies: We avoided the confound of using complement clauses in the false-belief tests, assessed complement-clause proficiency with a new comprehensive test designed to capture gradual development, and controlled for individual differences in executive functioning that could affect both linguistic and sociocognitive performance. Further, we aimed to disentangle the influence of two aspects of complement-clause acquisition: proficiency with the perspective-marking syntactic structure itself and understanding of the specific mental verbs used in this syntactic structure. To investigate direction of causality, we also tested whether early false-belief reasoning predicted later complement-clause proficiency. The results provide strong support for the hypothesis that complement-clause acquisition promotes development in false-belief reasoning. Proficiency with the general structure of complement-clause constructions and understanding of the specific mental verbs “think” and “know” in 3rd-person complements at Time 1 both contributed uniquely to predicting false-belief performance at Time 2. However, false-belief performance at Time 1 also contributed uniquely to predicting complement-clause proficiency at Time 2. Together, these results indicate a bidirectional relationship between linguistic and sociocognitive development.

Item Type:
Journal Article
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Developmental Psychology
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©American Psychological Association, 2021. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at: 10.1037/dev0001012
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07 Jun 2021 08:50
Last Modified:
19 Oct 2023 10:25