1987; see Box 3-2 for examples of tasks used to study theory of mind). Children seem to progress from seeing agents as simply driven by desires to being driven by beliefs and desires that interact in a systematic and reliable way (Wellman, 1990). Over much of childhood, there continue to be advances in thinking in even more subtle ways about how mental states and processes are causally related to actions (Flavell, 1999).
The nature of thought about intentional agents is vividly revealed through the study of individuals with autism. Although their understanding of motion in the physical world may be relatively intact, their understanding of other people’s beliefs may be seriously deficient (Baron-Cohen, 1995). Such results give support to the idea that cognitive development proceeds somewhat independently in each domain of knowledge.
In short, from early in infancy, the social world is seen as patterning in dramatically different ways from the physical world. Infants have entirely different sets of expectations about entities in the two worlds, expectations
Tasks Used to Study Children’s Ideas About the Mind
In a standard test for children’s understanding of false belief (Wimmer and Perner, 1983), children watch while a doll puts some chocolate in a cupboard and leaves the room. The chocolate is then moved in the doll’s absence, and the doll returns. Children are told that the doll now wants the chocolate, and they are asked to say where the doll will search. Before children have an understanding of others’ minds, they are more likely to say the doll will search in the new location. Once they have developed an understanding of false belief, they will predict that the doll will search in the old location. In fact, there is a robust improvement between age 3 and age 5 in children’s ability to predict that the doll will search in the old rather than the new location.
A number of other tasks have also been used to explore children’s developing understanding of the mind. For example, they may be asked to explain a character’s actions in a story (e.g., Jane is looking for her kitty under the piano. Why is she doing that?) (Bartsch and Wellman, 1989). In another task, children watch as Coke is taken out of a Coke can and replaced with milk out of sight of a story character. They are then asked how the character feels about being offered the can to drink, before the character has taken a sip and discovered it is milk; 3- and 4-year-olds often refer to what they themselves know about the contents of the can (it is milk), rather than what the character would believe (it is Coke) (Harris et al., 1989).