Continuity from an implicit to an explicit understanding of false belief from infancy to preschool age


Correspondence should be addressed to Claudia Thoermer, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilans-University, Leopoldstrasse 13, D-80802 Munich, Germany (e-mail:


An implicit understanding of false belief indicated by anticipatory looking has been shown to be significantly correlated with performance on explicit false-belief tasks in 3- and 4-year-old children (Low, 2010). Recent evidence from infant research indicates, however, that implicit false-belief understanding guides infants’ expectations about goal-directed actions even in the second year of life. The present study presents data from a sample of N= 70 infants who were tested longitudinally at 15, 18, 30, 36 and 48 months with implicit and explicit Theory of Mind measures, as well as an assessment of verbal IQ. Belief-based anticipatory looking in the false-belief task at 18 months significantly predicted verbal false-belief reasoning at 48 months, after controlling for verbal IQ. These findings indicate developmental continuity and conceptual specificity in belief reasoning from infancy to preschool age. They are discussed with respect to competing accounts of infants’ understanding of the mind.