Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Do 18-month old humans have a theory of mind?

Senju et al., following up on an experiment by Meltzoff and Brooks, use a rather clever experimental design to show that 18-month old children can attribute false beliefs to others, a capacity previously thought to appear only after 3-4 years:
In the research reported here, we investigated whether 18-month-olds would use their own past experience of visual access to attribute perception and consequent beliefs to other people. Infants in this study wore either opaque blindfolds (opaque condition) or trick blindfolds that looked opaque but were actually transparent (trick condition). Then both groups of infants observed an actor wearing one of the same blindfolds that they themselves had experienced, while a puppet removed an object from its location. Anticipatory eye movements revealed that infants who had experienced opaque blindfolds expected the actor to behave in accordance with a false belief about the object’s location, but that infants who had experienced trick blindfolds did not exhibit that expectation. Our results suggest that 18-month-olds used self-experience with the blindfolds to assess the actor’s visual access and to update her belief state accordingly. These data constitute compelling evidence that 18-month-olds infer perceptual access and appreciate its causal role in altering the epistemic states of other people.


  1. Very interesting.

    It sounds to me like either kids are developing faster and sooner, or some of the old studies on child development stages weren't designed with enough accuracy.

    What do you think?


  2. I'm really not qualified to judge these experimental designs, but it looks like the current authors just figured out a better way to ask the question. I can't imagine that kids are suddenly smarter.

  3. Oh but you would think, with adept 5 year old iPad users roaming the streets.