Children’s understanding of first and third person perspectives in complement clauses and false belief tasks

Brandt, Silke and Buttelmann, David and Lieven, Elena and Tomasello, Michael (2016) Children’s understanding of first and third person perspectives in complement clauses and false belief tasks. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 151. pp. 131-143. ISSN 0022-0965

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De Villiers (2007) and others have claimed that children come to understand false beliefs as they acquire linguistic constructions for representing a proposition and the speaker’s epistemic attitude toward that proposition. In the current study, English-speaking children (N=64) of 3 and 4 years of age were asked to interpret propositional attitude constructions with a first-person or a third-person subject of the propositional attitude (e.g., I think the sticker is in the red box or The cow thinks the sticker is in the red box, respectively). They were also assessed for an understanding of their own and others’ false beliefs. We found that 4-year-olds showed a better understanding of both third-person propositional attitude constructions and false belief than their younger peers. No significant developmental differences were found for first-person propositional attitude constructions. The older children also showed a better understanding of their own than of others’ false beliefs. In addition, regression analyses suggest that the older children’s comprehension of their own false belief was mainly related to their understanding of third-person propositional attitude constructions. These results indicate that we need to take a closer look at the propositional attitude constructions that are supposed to support children’s false-belief reasoning. Children may come to understand their own and others’ beliefs in different ways, and this may affect both their use and understanding of propositional attitude constructions and their performance in various types of false-belief tasks.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
Additional Information:
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Experimental Child Psychology, 151, 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2016.03.004
?? theory-of-mind developmentfalse belieffirst-language acquisitioncomplement clausesmental verbsepistemic modality ??
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03 Mar 2016 16:22
Last Modified:
19 Feb 2024 00:36