Constructing a New Theory From Old Ideas and New Evidence


Correspondence should be sent to Marjorie Rhodes, 6 Washington Place, rm. 301, New York University, New York, NY 10003. E-mail:


A central tenet of constructivist models of conceptual development is that children's initial conceptual level constrains how they make sense of new evidence and thus whether exposure to evidence will prompt conceptual change. Yet little experimental evidence directly examines this claim for the case of sustained, fundamental conceptual achievements. The present study combined scaling and experimental microgenetic methods to examine the processes underlying conceptual change in the context of an important conceptual achievement of early childhood—the development of a representational theory of mind. Results from 47 children (M age = 3.7 years) indicate that only children who were conceptually close to understanding false belief at the beginning of the study, and who were experimentally exposed to evidence of people acting on false beliefs, reliably developed representational theories of minds. Combined scaling and microgenetic data revealed how prior conceptual level interacts with experience, thereby providing critical experimental evidence for how conceptual change results from the interplay between conceptions and evidence.