Early False-Belief Understanding

Rose M. Scott, Renée Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Intense controversy surrounds the question of when children first understand that others can hold false beliefs. Results from traditional tasks suggest that false-belief understanding does not emerge until about 4 years of age and constitutes a major developmental milestone in social cognition. By contrast, results from nontraditional tasks, which have steadily accumulated over the past 10 years, suggest that false-belief understanding is already present in infants (under age 2 years) and toddlers (age 2–3 years) and thus forms an integral part of social cognition from early in life. Here we first present an overview of the findings from nontraditional tasks. We then return to traditional tasks and argue that processing difficulties, rather than limitations in false-belief understanding, account for young children's failure at these tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-249
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • false-belief understanding
  • psychological reasoning
  • social cognition
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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