Direct and indirect measures of Level-2 perspective-taking in children and adults

ADR Surtees, SA Butterfill, Ian Apperly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Citations (Scopus)


Studies with infants show divergence between performance on theory of mind tasks depending on whether direct or indirect measures are used. It has been suggested that direct measures assess a flexible but cognitively demanding ability to reason about the minds of others, whereas indirect measures assess distinct processes which afford more efficient but less flexible theory of mind abilities (Apperly & Butterfill, 2009). This leads to the prediction that performance on indirect measures should be subject to signature limits. The current study tested whether the Level-1/Level-2 distinction might constitute one such limit. The study adapted a task that has shown evidence of Level-1 perspective-taking on both direct and indirect measures (Samson, Apperly, Braithwaite, Andrews, & Bodley-Scott, 2010). The aim was to test Level-2 perspective-taking in a sample of 6- to 11-year-olds (N = 80) and adults (N = 20). Participants were able to make Level-2 judgements on the direct measure. In contrast with the findings from Level-1 perspective-taking, there was no evidence of automatic processing of Level-2 perspectives on the indirect measure. This finding is consistent with the view that theory of mind abilities assessed by indirect measures are subject to signature limits. The Level-1/Level-2 distinction, suitably refined, marks one way in which efficient but inflexible theory of mind abilities are limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012


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