We contrast the standard representational theory-of-mind approach to the understanding of mental states with an alternative view that theory-of-mind tasks require executive functioning or the inhibition of more ''cognitively salient'' information. Two experiments test the hypothesis that 3-year-olds' apparent problems on theory-of-mind tasks are not due to an inability to represent the mental contents of another, but rather lie in the informational structure of the task. In Experiment 1, 3- to 5-year-olds were tested on their understanding of desire in others either when they themselves held a strong and conflicting desire or when they had no strong desire. Results showed that under the condition of having a strong and conflicting desire, only 5-year-olds were able to recognize that another person may desire something different. in contrast, when the children themselves held no strong desire, even 3-year-olds were able to judge another's desire correctly. Experiment 2 compared 3-year-olds' performance on a standard false-belief task with an equivalently structured desire task in which participants had again to inhibit their own strong and conflicting desire. Results showed similar performance on the traditional false-belief task and the new conflicting-desire task.
Moore, C., Jarrold, C., Russell, J., Lumb, A., Sapp, F., & MacCallum, F. (2005). 'Conflicting desire' and the child's theory of mind. Cognitive Development, 10, 467 - 482. https://doi.org/10.1016/0885-2014(95)90023-3