Breaking the rules: Do infants have a true understanding of false belief?


Correspondence should be addressed to Diane Poulin-Dubois, Centre for Research in Human Development, Department of Psychology, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H4B 1R6 (e-mail:


It has been suggested that infants’ performance on the false belief task can be explained by the use of behavioural rules. To test this hypothesis, 18-month-old infants were trained to learn the new rule that an object that disappeared in location A could be found in location B. Infants were then administered a false belief task based on the violation of expectation (VOE) paradigm, an intention understanding task, and a modified detour-reaching task. Results revealed that infants looked significantly longer at the display when the experimenter looked for the toy in the full box (box with the toy) compared to infants who observed the experimenter search in the empty box (box without the toy). Results also revealed significant correlations between infants’ looking time at the display and their scores on the intention task and on the detour-reaching task. Taken together, these findings suggest that infants possess an implicit understanding of false belief. In addition, they challenge the view that success on the implicit false belief task does not require executive functioning abilities.