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Seventeen-month-olds appeal to false beliefs to interpret others’ referential communication

Authors


Victoria Southgate, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK; e-mail: v.southgate@bbk.ac.uk

Abstract

Recent studies have demonstrated infants’ pragmatic abilities for resolving the referential ambiguity of non-verbal communicative gestures, and for inferring the intended meaning of a communicator’s utterances. These abilities are difficult to reconcile with the view that it is not until around 4 years that children can reason about the internal mental states of others. In the current study, we tested whether 17-month-old infants are able to track the status of a communicator’s epistemic state and use this to infer what she intends to refer to. Our results show that manipulating whether or not a communicator has a false belief leads infants to different interpretations of the same communicative act, and demonstrate early mental state attribution in a pragmatic context.

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