Children’s Understanding of False Beliefs in the Context of a Picture Book Reading
Mary Schlimme Riggio
Clinical Developmental Psychology
Understanding that one can hold a false belief, or a belief about a situation that
differs from the reality of that situation, is an ability that significantly enhances social
interactions. Previous research has shown that an understanding of false beliefs develops
around the age of four, yet many books typically read to preschool children contain false
beliefs. Given that false beliefs are abundant in children's literature and that children have
difficulty understanding these concepts, the current study investigates whether preschool
children understand false beliefs in the context of a naturalistic reading of contemporary
children's books. Furthermore, this study investigates how children process information
regarding the characters’ false beliefs in these stories.
Thirty-three children from preschools and day care centers in a suburban area participated in this study. Each participant was read two published children's books with false belief occurrences that were central to the plot. For example, in one story a character encountered several objects and mistook them for something else (e.g. she thought a hose was a snake). Children were asked false belief questions about the stories and were asked to retell the stories after the reading. A standard false belief task was also administered. Data analyses suggest that children may not understand these stories in a manner consistent with adult understanding.