Meng Chen

Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Thesis




Philosophy of mind in children, Developmental psychology, Structural equation modeling, Reasoning in children, Language and logic, Inhibition in children, Cognition in children, Theory of mind, False belief, Language, False complement syntax, Inhibitory control, Executive function, S,E,M., Psychology, Developmental


False belief understanding is an important milestone of children's development of a theory of mind. A number of linguistic and cognitive factors have been proposed as contributing to the development of false belief reasoning. Among them are vocabulary, complex syntax and executive functioning, especially inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. The Linguistic Determinism Theory (J. de Villiers, 2005) argues that mastery of complement clause syntax enables children's representation of the content of people's cognitive states necessary for understanding false beliefs: Inhibitory Control Theory (Carlson, Moses, and Hix, 1998) argues that explicit reasoning about false beliefs requires children to consider both reality as they know it and other people's states of knowledge, and to inhibit simply reporting their own beliefs when asked to judge another person's false belief. Previous research has found correlational evidence that supports either theory. Yet few studies in the current literature examine the interaction between these factors in determining false belief reasoning, and it has not yet proved possible to tease apart the relative effects of language and inhibitory control. The present study, with a large sample of 325 preschoolers tested at the beginning (Time 1) and end (Time 2) of the preschool year, investigated the effects of general vocabulary, false complement comprehension and inhibitory control on explicit false belief reasoning as well as their interactions with each other in predicting children's false belief reasoning. Both hierarchical linear regressions and structural equation models were employed in the analyses. Concurrent and longitudinal findings show that inhibitory control is a stronger predictor at Time 1 than Time 2 while vocabulary and false complement comprehension consistently predict false belief reasoning development across the preschool year. Inhibitory control and vocabulary also contribute indirectly to false belief reasoning development through their effects on the false complement comprehension task. Hence the results of this study suggest that the Linguistic Determinism Theory and Inhibitory Control Theory are complementary to each other, rather than opposing accounts




47 p. : col. ill. Honors project-Smith College, 2013. Includes bibliographical references (p. 41-44)