'Conflicting desire' and the child's theory of mind

C Moore, C Jarrold, J Russell, A Lumb, F Sapp, F MacCallum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Translated title of the contribution'Conflicting desire' and the child's theory of mind
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467 - 482
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Development
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005


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