Early false-belief understanding in traditional non-Western societies

H. Clark Barrett, Tanya Broesch, Rose M. Scott, Zijing He, Renée Baillargeon, Di Wu, Matthias Bolz, Joseph Henrich, Peipei Setoh, Jianxin Wang, Stephen Laurence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20122575
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume280
Issue number1755
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 22 2013

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Keywords

  • Evolutionary psychology
  • False-belief understanding
  • Human universals
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

Barrett, H. C., Broesch, T., Scott, R. M., He, Z., Baillargeon, R., Wu, D., Bolz, M., Henrich, J., Setoh, P., Wang, J., & Laurence, S. (2013). Early false-belief understanding in traditional non-Western societies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1755), [20122575]. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2654