Description of original task by its developers, Wimmer & Perner (1983):
Understanding of another person’s wrong belief requires explicit representation of the wrongness of this person’s belief in relation to one’s own knowledge. Three- to nine-year-old children’s understanding of two sketches was tested. In each sketch subjects observed how a protagonist put an object into a location x and then witnessed that in the absence of the protagonist the object was transferred from x to location y. Since this transfer came as a surprise they had to assume that the protagonist still believed that the object was in x. Subjects had to indicate where the protagonist will look for the object at his return.
Even as adults, we still make similar errors (whether in belief or behavior). Lesson: Just because you know something doesn’t mean others do (as in flawed perspective-taking). Or: Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine (yourself or others) not knowing it (as in expert blindspot).
- Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young childrenʼs understanding of deception. Cognition, 13(1), 103-128. Retrieved from http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/0010027783900045
Interesting critique of the false-belief task:
- Bloom, P. & German, T. (2000). Two reasons to abandon the false belief task as a test of theory of mind.Cognition, 77, B25-B31.