Testing Expression Effects of Language and Inhibition Within a Series of False Belief Tasks

Open Access
Craven, Patrick Lawrence
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 27, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Keith E Nelson, Committee Chair
  • Carol Anne Miller, Committee Member
  • Ulrich Mueller, Committee Member
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Committee Member
  • theory of mind
  • inhibition
  • executive function
  • language
The extent to which theory of mind task success depends on children’s language and executive function skills is tested in this study. Specifically, the hypothesis that the requirements of the false belief task mask successful expression of an underlying theory of mind is examined. To test this hypothesis, four versions of a false belief task are used in which each version has a high or low language and executive function component. The language component is modified by altering the phrasing of the theory of mind question such that a more simple language version is included in addition to the standard syntactically complex version. The executive function component is modified by allowing children to respond using either the standard finger-pointing version, or through the use of a game-board arrow. Additionally, the hypothesis that any resulting changes according to task manipulation would be related to an underlying cognitive ability in either language or inhibition is examined. Results from 28 children are reported, and main effects for the manipulation in both language and executive function were observed. Observed differences were in a direction opposite of what was expected, and these differences appeared unrelated to underlying cognitive skills. The results are interpreted in a context in which language plays a strong role in theory of mind success, possibly through working memory, and that subtle differences in theory of mind tasks can yield significantly different performances.