The link between infant attention to goal-directed action and later theory of mind abilities

Authors


Address for correspondence: Gisa Aschersleben, Developmental Psychology Unit, Department of Psychology, Saarland University, D-66123 Saarbrücken, Germany; e-mail: aschersleben@mx.uni-saarland.de

Abstract

Various studies have shown that infants in their first year of life are able to interpret human actions as goal-directed. It is argued that this understanding is a precondition for understanding intentional actions and attributing mental states. Moreover, some authors claim that this early action understanding is a precursor of later Theory of Mind (ToM) development. To test this, we related 6-month-olds’ performance in an action interpretation task to their performance in ToM tasks at the age of 4 years. Action understanding was assessed using a modified version of the Woodward-paradigm (Woodward, 1999). At the age of 4 years, the same children were tested with the German version of the ToM scale developed by Wellman and Liu (2004). Results revealed a correlation between infants’ decrement of attention to goal-directed action and their ability to solve a false belief task at the age of 4 years with no modulation by language abilities. Our results indicate a link between infant attention to goal-directed action and later theory of mind abilities.

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