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Title: A lower level developmental account of infant "false belief" reasoning
Author: Stack , James Andrew
Awarding Body: Lancaster University
Current Institution: Lancaster University
Date of Award: 2010
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In a groundbreaking empirical study Onishi and Baillargeon (2005) developed a nonverbal version of Wimmer and Perner's (1983) unexpected transfer false belief task based on Woodward's (1998) violation-of-expectation methodology in order to assess 15-month-olds preferential looking times. The findings from this study demonstrate that infants looked less when an agent reached for a target object where the agent last . . . ..- saw it when it had been moved to a different location in her absence. Onishi & Baillargeon and others have interpreted these data as providing the first empirical demonstration of an implicit and innate meta-representational understanding of beliefstates within infancy (the rich accounts). Alternatively, these data have been interpreted at a mentalistic level as demonstrating no more than infants' understanding of the agent's ignorance (Southgate et aI, 2007; Wellman, in press) or at a basic non-mentalistic level involving an understanding of actions based on associationist strategies and behavioural rules (the lean accounts of Perner & Ruffman, 2005). I suggest that the rich and lean accounts are problematic in that both provide a non-developmental and excessively adult-like conception of task performance on this measure. This masks the emergence of, as yet unconsidered, lower level and developmentally sensitive precursor competences. I argue that infant false belief data can be better understood if situated within such a lower level developmental framework which emphasises (a) infants' understanding of goal-directed actions and (b) key differences between the levels of perceptual awareness demonstrated by infants and older children in the verbal and non-verbal versions of the unexpected transfer task. At a wider level I argue that the types of competence demonstrated on both verbal and non-verbal false belief tasks can be situated within a second person I .~------------ -- r relational framework (e.g., Gallagher, 2005; Reddy, 2003 , 2008). With specific reference to Onishi and Baillargeon's (2005) non-verbal 'false belief' task I argue that infant social competence is framed in terms of what 'we' saw (a first-person plural explanation) rather than what 'I' saw 'you' see (a third-person explanation). In order to test these assertions five cross-sectional empirical studies were conducted on infants between the ages of 10- and 22-months. The findings from at least four of these studies (Studies 1-, 2-, 3-, and 5) were inconsistent with both the rich and lean accounts. In contrast, the findings from at least three of these studies (Studies 1-, 3-, and 5) were consistent with my own lower level action-perception account. These findings suggest a reconceptualisation both in terms of how we assess and how we interpret infant false belief data.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available