Psychology Faculty Publications

Title

Early False-Belief Understanding in Three Traditional Non-Western Societies

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

3-2013

Journal Title

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Volume

280

Issue

1755

DOI

http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2654

PubMed ID

23363628

PubMed Central® ID

PMC3574387

Abstract

The psychological capacity to recognize that others may hold and act on false beliefs has been proposed to reflect an evolved, species-typical adaptation for social reasoning in humans; however, controversy surrounds the developmental timing and universality of this trait. Cross-cultural studies using elicited-response tasks indicate that the age at which children begin to understand false beliefs ranges from 4 to 7 years across societies, whereas studies using spontaneous-response tasks with Western children indicate that false-belief understanding emerges much earlier, consistent with the hypothesis that false-belief understanding is a psychological adaptation that is universally present in early childhood. To evaluate this hypothesis, we used three spontaneous-response tasks that have revealed early false-belief understanding in the West to test young children in three traditional, non-Western societies: Salar (China), Shuar/Colono (Ecuador) and Yasawan (Fiji). Results were comparable with those from the West, supporting the hypothesis that false-belief understanding reflects an adaptation that is universally present early in development.

Keywords

Cognition, evolution, behavior, theory of mind, evolutionary psychology, false-belief understanding, social cognition, human universals, child development, cross-cultural comparison

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