Neural Correlates of Children’s Theory of Mind Development


  • Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research of the University of Michigan, a NSERC Discovery Grant to Sabbagh, and Grant HD-22149 to Wellman.

concerning this article should be addressed to David Liu, now at the Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0109. Electronic mail may be sent to


Young children show significant changes in their mental-state understanding as marked by their performance on false-belief tasks. This study provides evidence for activity in the prefrontal cortex associated with the development of this ability. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded as adults (N = 24) and 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old children (N = 44) reasoned about reality and the beliefs of characters in animated vignettes. In adults, a late slow wave (LSW), with a left-frontal scalp distribution, was associated with reasoning about beliefs. This LSW was also observed for children who could correctly reason about the characters’ beliefs but not in children who failed false-belief questions. These findings have several implications, including support for the critical role of the prefrontal cortex for theory of mind development.