Effects of Labeling on Preschoolers’ Explicit False Belief Performance: Outcomes of Cognitive Flexibility or Inhibitory Control?


  • We are grateful to all the children for their generous participation and thank the Wellington Kindergarten Association for their support throughout. We thank Penny Tok and Bo Wang for assistance with data collection and two anonymous reviewers for their theoretical and methodological suggestions for improving the article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jason Low, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand. Electronic mail may be sent to jason.low@vuw.ac.nz.


Executive function mechanisms underpinning language-related effects on theory of mind understanding were examined in a sample of 165 preschoolers. Verbal labels were manipulated to identify relevant perspectives on an explicit false belief task. In Experiment 1 with 4-year-olds (= 74), false belief reasoning was superior in the fully and protagonist-perspective labeled conditions compared to the child-perspective and nondescript labeling conditions. In Experiment 2 with 3-year-olds (= 53), labeling the nondominant belief only biased attentional inertia. In Experiment 3 testing generalization in 4-year-olds (= 38), labeling manipulations translated to improved performance on a second label-free explicit false belief task. These outcomes fit a cognitive flexibility account whereby age changes in the effects of labeling turn on formulating sophisticated conceptual representations.