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Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind$
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Janet Wilde Astington and Jodie A. Baird

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195159912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.001.0001

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Representational Development and False-Belief Understanding

Representational Development and False-Belief Understanding

(p.163) 9 Representational Development and False-Belief Understanding
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Janet Wilde Astington

Jodie A. Baird

Oxford University Press

Language is crucial for the theory of mind because it allows for, and indeed supports, a separation between what is real and what is hypothetical or counterfactual. Language is a medium of representation and, in simple uses, linguistic representations code perceptions. Perception fixes content and mode/attitude together. In false-belief tasks, language provides a means for representing mental states in contradistinction to the evidence given in reality. This chapter hypothesizes that the change-in-location false-belief task will be easier if children hear about but do not actually see the object transfer (because they will not be misled by the salience of reality) and that the task will be harder if children have to construct their own linguistic representation of the false belief, in conflict with the information presented in the visual display. To investigate this hypothesis, children's performance on a standard version of the false-belief task (in which both verbal and visual representations were provided) is compared with their performance on the verbal-only and visual-only versions. Across the two studies, there exists no evidence that these manipulations have any effect on children's false-belief task performance.

Keywords:   false-belief tasks, children, object transfer, linguistic representation, perception, theory of mind, language, content, mental states

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