Relations between false belief understanding and executive function in early childhood: a meta-analysis

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  • University of Cambridge


The association between executive function (EF) and theory of mind (ToM) has been hotly debated for 20 years. Competing accounts focus on: task demands, conceptual overlap, or functional ties. Findings from this meta-analytic review of 102 studies (representing 9,994 participants aged 3-6 years) indicate that the moderate association between EF and one key aspect of ToM, false belief understanding (FBU) is: (a) similar for children from different cultures, (b) largely consistent across distinct EF tasks, but varies across different types of false belief task, and (c) is asymmetric in that early individual differences in EF predict later variation in FBU but not vice versa. These findings support a hybrid emergence-expression account and highlight new directions for research.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1777-1794
Number of pages18
JournalChild Development
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2014