Early Deception and the Child's Theory of Mind: False Trails and Genuine Markers


  • Beate Sodian acknowledges support from the Deutsche Forshungsgemeinschaft (So 213/1–1, 1–2); Josef Perner acknowledges support from the Alexander–von Humboldt Foundation. The authors are grateful to Aurelia Hoelker, Petra Schlarb, and John Pollock for their assistance with data collection.

Reprints may be obtained from B. Sodian, Inst. fuer Impirische Paedagog., Leopoldstr 13, D-8000, Muenchen 40, West Germany, or P. L. Harris, Department of Experimental Psychology, South Parks Rd., Oxford, OX1 3UD, U.K.


The ability to understand false beliefs is critical to a concept of mind. Chandler, Fritz, and Hala challenge recent claims that this ability emerges only at around 4 years of age. They report that 2- and 3-year-olds remove true trails and lay false ones to mislead someone about the location of a hidden object. Experiment 1 confirmed that 2- and 3-year-olds produce apparently deceptive ploys, but they produce them less often than 4-year-olds, require prompting, and rarely anticipate their impact on the victim's beliefs or search. In addition, Experiment 2 showed that 3-year-olds produce deceptive and informative ploys indiscriminately, whether asked to mislead a competitor or inform a collaborator. By contrast, 4-year-olds act selectively. The results support earlier claims that an understanding of false beliefs and deceptive ploys emerges at around 4 years of age. 2- and 3-year-olds can be led to produce such ploys but show no clear understanding of their effect.