Eighteen-month-olds understand false beliefs in an unexpected-contents task

David Buttelmann, Harriet Over, Malinda Carpenter, Michael Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies suggest that infants understand that others can have false beliefs. However, most of these studies have used looking time measures, and the few that have used behavioral measures are all based on the change-of-location paradigm, leading to claims that infants might use behavioral rules instead of mental state understanding to pass these tests. We investigated infants’ false-belief reasoning using a different paradigm. In this unexpected-contents helping task, 18-month-olds were familiarized with boxes for blocks that contained blocks. When an experimenter subsequently reached for a box for blocks that now contained a spoon, infants based their choice of whether to give her a spoon or a block on her true or false belief about which object the block box contained. These results help to demonstrate the flexibility of infants’ false-belief understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-126
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • False belief
  • Helping
  • Theory of mind
  • Infancy
  • Goal understanding
  • Prosocial behaviour


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