What does the so-called False Belief Task actually check?

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Abstract
There is currently a theoretical tension between young children’s failure in False Belief Tasks (FBTs) and their success in a variety of other tasks that also seem to require the ability to ascribe false beliefs to agents. We try to explain this tension by the hypothesis that in the FBT, children think they are asked what the agent should do in the circumstances and not what the agent will do. We explain why this hypothesis is plausible. We examined the hypothesis in two experiments, each involving a new task. In the first task, the hypothesised misunderstanding of the question leads to failure without the need to ascribe a false belief, and we show that failure in this new task is correlated with failure in the FBT. In the second task, passing which requires ascribing a false belief to an agent, and for which we have partial yet encouraging results, the children are asked a question which is unlikely to be misunderstood. Children pass this task much more often than they do a standard FBT. The mentioned tension is thus resolved. We conclude that the so-called False Belief Task probably does not check the ability to ascribe false beliefs but rather linguistic development.
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BENWDT-5
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Archival date: 2019-07-01
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2019-07-01

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