False-belief understanding in 2.5-year-olds: Evidence from two novel verbal spontaneous-response tasks

Rose M. Scott, Zijing He, Renée Baillargeon, Denise Cummins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research indicates that toddlers and infants succeed at various non-verbal spontaneous-response false-belief tasks; here we asked whether toddlers would also succeed at verbal spontaneous-response false-belief tasks that imposed significant linguistic demands. We tested 2.5-year-olds using two novel tasks: a preferential-looking task in which children listened to a false-belief story while looking at a picture book (with matching and non-matching pictures), and a violation-of-expectation task in which children watched an adult 'Subject' answer (correctly or incorrectly) a standard false-belief question. Positive results were obtained with both tasks, despite their linguistic demands. These results (1) support the distinction between spontaneous- and elicited-response tasks by showing that toddlers succeed at verbal false-belief tasks that do not require them to answer direct questions about agents' false beliefs, (2) reinforce claims of robust continuity in early false-belief understanding as assessed by spontaneous-response tasks, and (3) provide researchers with new experimental tasks for exploring early false-belief understanding in neurotypical and autistic populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-193
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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