Children's mental representation of referential relations

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Colleges, School and Institutes


We identify a surprising discrepancy in children's performance in two tasks which appear superficially to require handling of the same properties of the representational mind. Four- to six-year-olds made judgements about the knowledge of a protagonist who had only partial information about an object: the child knew that an object in a box had two descriptions, X and Y (e.g. dice and eraser), but the protagonist had access to only one of these, X. In Experiment 1, children who passed a standard false-belief task also judged correctly that the protagonist did not know the X was Y, but often judged wrongly that he did know there was a Y in the box. In Experiment 2, children predicted wrongly where the protagonist would look for a Y: the problem was not purely linguistic. We argue that success on standard theory-of-mind tasks can be supported by a more basic representing ability than is assumed in current theories, and that children's mental representation of referential relations between the world and the mind subsequently undergoes important change.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-309
Number of pages23
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 1998