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Evidence for a weak but reliable processing advantage for false beliefs over similar non-mental states in adults

Samuel, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-7776-7427, Cole, G. G., Eacott, M. J. , Edwardson, R. & Course, H. (2023). Evidence for a weak but reliable processing advantage for false beliefs over similar non-mental states in adults. Cognitive Science, 47(10), article number e13364. doi: 10.1111/cogs.13364


The ability to attribute mental states to others has sometimes been attributed to a domain-specific mechanism which privileges the processing of these states over similar but non-mental representations. If correct, then others’ beliefs should be processed more efficiently than similar information contained within non-mental states. We tested this by examining whether adults would be faster to process others' false beliefs than equivalent 'false' photos. Additionally, we tested whether they would be faster to process others' true beliefs about something than their own (matched) personal knowledge about the same event. Across four experiments we found a small but reliable effect in favour of the first prediction, but no evidence for the second. Results are consistent with accounts positing specialised processes for (false) mental states. The size of the effect does however suggest that alternative explanations such as practice effects cannot be ruled out.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 The Authors. Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Cognitive Science Society (CSS). This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Theory of Mind; False Belief; False Photo; True Belief; Domain specialisation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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