Executive Functioning and Preschoolers' Understanding of False Beliefs, False Photographs, and False Signs


  • This research was funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to Mark Sabbagh. We thank Samantha Samonte, Laura Coristine, and Stephanie Jull for their assistance with data collection and coding. Thanks are also due to the children and parents who volunteered their time to participate in these studies.

concerning this article should be addressed to Mark Sabbagh, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6. Electronic mail may be sent to sabbagh@post.queensu.ca.


Two studies were conducted to investigate the specificity of the relationship between preschoolers' emerging executive functioning skills and false belief understanding. Study 1 (N=44) showed that 3- to 5-year-olds' performance on an executive functioning task that required selective suppression of actions predicted performance on false belief tasks, but not on false photograph tasks. Study 2 (N=54) replicated the finding from Study 1 and showed that performance on the executive functioning task also predicted 3- to 5-year-olds' performance on false sign tasks. These findings show that executive functioning is required to reason only about representations that are intended to reflect a true state of affairs. Results are discussed with respect to theories of preschoolers' theory-of-mind development.