Evans, V. C., Berthiaume, V. G., Shultz, T. R. (May, 2010). Toddlers' transitions on a false-belief task involving an unexpected location: A constructive connectionist model. Development 2010, Ottawa, Ontario.



Some argue that children develop a Theory of Mind (ToM), the understanding that others have mental representations, at four years. This is evidenced by children's newfound success at verbal false-belief tasks, in which they verbally predict a person will search for a toy where she falsely believes it to be, rather than its actual location.  However, using anticipatory looking as a non-verbal measure, Southgate et al. (2007) showed 25-month-olds correctly anticipated an actress, who missed a toy being moved from a box to somewhere offstage, would search according to her false belief.  To investigate toddlers' success at this task, we built a Sibling-Descendant Cascade-Correlation neural-network model, following Berthiaume et al.'s (2008) model of a simpler non-verbal false-belief task.  Training included true- and false-belief searches in four locations, simulating toddlers' everyday experience with true- and false-beliefs. Testing included the original four locations plus a fifth, novel location, mimicking testing on the Southgate task and its unexpected offstage location.  Networks transitioned from incorrectly predicting true-belief searches in both true- and false-belief conditions to making correct predictions in both conditions, ps < .001.  Our model thus (1) reproduces the transition found by Berthiaume et al. (2008) with more complex tasks, (2) predicts that children undergo this transition before 25 months, and (3) demonstrates that networks, potentially like children, develop sufficiently general representations of true and false beliefs to accommodate entirely novel locations.  Future work will analyse networks' connection weights to determine how they accomplish this, which may illuminate how children understand false beliefs.


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