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Surprise! 20-month-old infants understand the emotional consequences of false beliefs.

  • Author(s): Scott, Rose M
  • et al.

Recent studies suggest that by the second year of life, infants can attribute false beliefs to agents. However, prior studies have largely focused on infants' ability to predict a mistaken agent's physical actions on objects. The present research investigated whether 20-month-old infants could also reason about belief-based emotional displays. In Experiments 1 and 2, infants viewed an agent who shook two objects: one rattled and the other was silent. Infants expected the agent to express surprise at the silent object if she had a false belief that both objects rattled, but not if she was merely ignorant about the objects' properties. Experiment 3 replicated and extended these findings: if an agent falsely believed that two containers held toy bears (when only one did so), infants expected the agent to express surprise at the empty, but not the full, container. Together, these results provide the first evidence that infants in the second year of life understand the causal relationship between beliefs and emotional displays. These findings thus provide new evidence for false-belief understanding in infancy and suggest that infants, like older children, possess a robust understanding of belief that applies to a broad range of belief-based responses.

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