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Narrative access and production in preschoolers' false belief reasoning.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • C. Lewis
  • N. Freeman
  • C. Hagestadt
  • H. Douglas
Journal publication date1994
JournalCognitive Development
Number of pages28
Original languageEnglish


False belief tests seem to show the apparent acquisition at around age 4 of an ability to understand the representational status of mind. In this article, preschoolers' performance on a false belief task was manipulated in terms of their grasp of its narrative base. Five experiments are reported in which 3-year-olds were helped to become familiar with the events that comprise the false belief procedure by going through a picture book version of the task, before being asked to judge the protagonist's mental state. In Experiment 1, children who had failed a traditional task succeeded if they narrated the book version back to the experimenter, particularly if they were fluent in their story recall. Experiment 2 showed that this success occurred either if the child recited the story or if she or he was taken through each page twice in succession. Experiment 3 combined the most effective procedures with a younger group of children (mean age 3;3) and revealed 95% success as long as they could recall the prerequisite events. Experiments 4 and 5 probed possible limiting conditions for success by inserting an extra episode in the story and changing the format of the test question. The results suggest that the structure of 3-year-olds' event memories is central to their poor performance in the traditional false belief task—a clear grasp of the false belief “narrative” is necessary for successful performance. When they are given the opportunity to link discrete events into a coherent narrative, they have no problem demonstrating an understanding of others' minds—being able to recount the narrative is sufficient for successful performance.