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Psychological Theories on False-Belief Task - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 149
False-Belief Task/FBT/psychological theories: How does one demonstrate that an individual has the capacity to conceive mental states? As Dennett (1978)(1) pointed out, it is not enough to demonstrate that an individual can predict the actions of another individual, for in many cases, actions can be predicted by simply observing the actual state of the world.
Wimmer/Perner: (Wimmer and Perner 1983)(2) designed a test that was later modified by Baron-Cohen et al. (1985)(3) and then was called the „Sally-Anne Test“:
Baron-Cohen: In this task, also referred to as an unexpected transfer test of false belief, children are told a story involving two dolls, Sally and Anne, playing with a marble. Sally puts the marble away in a basket, and leaves the room. In Sally’s absence, Anne takes the marble out and plays with it. Once she has finished playing, she puts the marble away in a box. Sally returns and the child is asked where Sally will look for the marble. The child passes the task if she answers that Sally will look where she first put the marble; the child fails the task if she answers that Sally will look in the box (where the marble really is). Two additional control questions are asked to make sure that the child understood the scenario: a reality question: “Where is the marble really?” and a memory question: “Where was the marble at the beginning?” >Autism/Baron-Cohen, >False-Belief Task/Happé.
Slater I 153
The observation that a small subgroup of autistic children succeeded on the ToM task (>Theory of Mind/ToM/psychological theories) led to the development of more sophisticated ToM tasks, such as second-order FBTs., e.g. the “ice-c ream van test”. (Baron-Cohen 1989)(4). 90% of the normal developing children passed the test and also 60% of the children with Down’s syndrome. In sharp contrast, none of the children with autism (…) succeeded. See also Bowler (1992)(5).
Slater I 154
Two — mutually compatible — hypotheses were developed in response to this new challenge. The first one is that individuals with autism who do pass first and second order tests come to do so with a significant delay. This fits well with results found in Happé’s (1995)(6) >False-Belief Task/Happé) meta-analysis of 13 false belief studies showing that the minimum verbal mental age (VMA) at which participants pass FBTs is 3.62 years in TD children and 5.5 years in children with ASD (see also, Fisher, Happé, & Dunn, 2005)(7). Under the assumption that there is a critical period for the development of numerous cognitive skills, this delay could account for persisting deficits in the communicative and social realms.
The second hypothesis is that surface level performance is to be distinguished from actual competence. It is indeed possible that the individuals with an ASD who pass ToM tests use strategies that differ from ordinary ToM mechanisms.
Slater I 155
Negative results in the FBT should be interpreted with caution: Regarding the first premise, the best evidence that we ought to interpret negative results preverbal infants can in fact represent other people’s mental states (for a review see Baillargeon, Scott, & He, 2010(8); but see Ruffman & Perner, 2005)(9), despite the fact that TÐ children have been robustly shown to fail verbally-presented FBTs before the age of four (for a review see Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001)(10). For instance, infants as young as 15 months (Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005)(11) or even 13 months (Surian, Caldi, & Sperber, 2007)(12) are surprised when the actor’s behaviour does not match her true or false belief regarding the situation.

1. Dennett, D. (1978). Beliefs about beliefs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 568-570.
2. Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition. 13, 103—128.
3. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition, 21, 13—125.
4. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989). The autistic child’s theory of mind — a case of specific developmental delay. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 30, 285—297.
5. Bowler, D. M. (1992). “Theory of mind” in Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 877—89 3.
6. Happé, F. (1995). The role of age and verbal ability in the theory of mind task performance of subjects with autism. Child Development, 66, 843—855.
7. Fisher, N., Happé, F., & Dunn, J. (2005). The relationship between vocabulary, grammar, and false belief task performance in children with autistic spectrum disorders and children with moderate learning difficulties. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 409—419.
8. Baillargeon, R., Scott, R, &He, Z. (2010). False-beliefunderstandingininfants. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14,110—118.
9. Ruifman, T., & Perner, J. (2005). Do infants really understand false belief? Response to Leslie. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 462—463.
10. Wellman, H. M., Cross, D., & Watson, J. (2001). Meta-analysis of theory-of-mind development: The truth about false belief. Child Development, 72, 65 5—684.
11. Onishi, K. H., & Baillargeon, R. (2005). Do 15-month-old infants understand false beliefs? Science, 308, 5719, 255—258.
12. Surian, L., Caldi, S., & Sperber, D. (2007). Attribution of beliefs by 13-month-old infants. Psychoiogical Science, 18, 580—586.

Coralie Chevallier, “Theory of Mind and Autism. Beyond Baron-Cohen et al’s. Sally-Anne Study”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012

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