Helping as an early indicator of a theory of mind: Mentalism or Teleology?



Priewasser B, Rafetseder E, Gargitter C & Perner J (2018) Helping as an early indicator of a theory of mind: Mentalism or Teleology?. Cognitive Development, 46, pp. 69-78.

This article challenges Buttelmann, Carpenter, and Tomasello’s (2009) claim that young children’s helping responses in their task are based on ascribing a false belief to a mistaken agent. In the first Study 18- to 32-month old children (N = 28) were more likely to help find a toy in the false belief than in the true belief condition. In Study 2, with 54 children of the same age, we assessed the authors’ mentalist interpretation of this result against an alternative teleological interpretation that does not make this assumption of belief ascription. The data speak in favor of our alternative. Children’s social competency is based more on inferences about what is likely to happen in a particular situation and on objective reasons for action than on inferences about agents’ mental states. We also discuss the need for testing serious alternative interpretations of claims about early belief understanding.

helping paradigm; Theory of Mind; replication; teleology; early false belief understanding

Cognitive Development: Volume 46

Publication date01/06/2018
Publication date online13/09/2017
Date accepted by journal06/08/2017
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Dr Eva Rafetseder

Dr Eva Rafetseder

Senior Lecturer, Psychology