Skip to main content

Adolescents are delayed at inferring complex social intentions in others, but not basic (false) beliefs: An eye movement investigation

Symeonidou, Irine, Dumontheil, Iroise, Ferguson, Heather J., Breheny, Richard (2020) Adolescents are delayed at inferring complex social intentions in others, but not basic (false) beliefs: An eye movement investigation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, . ISSN 1747-0218. (doi:10.1177/1747021820920213) (KAR id:80689)

PDF Author's Accepted Manuscript
Language: English
Download (3MB) Preview
[thumbnail of adolesecent false belief and secrets ACCEPTED.pdf]
This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.
Request an accessible format
Official URL


Most developmental research on Theory of Mind (ToM) - our ability to infer the beliefs, intentions, and desires of others - has focused on the preschool years. This is unsurprising since it was previously thought that ToM skills are developed between the ages of 2 and 7 years old (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001). Over the last couple of decades however, studies have provided evidence for significant structural and functional changes in the brain areas involved in ToM (the “social brain”) not only during childhood, but also during adolescence. Importantly, some of these findings suggest that the use of ToM shows a prolonged development through middle childhood and adolescence. Although evidence from previous studies suggests a protracted development of ToM, the factors that constrain performance during middle childhood and adolescence are only just beginning to be explored. In the current paper we report two visual world eye-tracking studies that focus on the timecourse of predictive inferences. We establish that when the complexity of ToM inferences are at a level which is comparable to standard change-of-location False-belief tasks, then adolescents and adults generate predictions for other agents’ behaviour in the same timecourse. However, when inferences are socially more complex, requiring inferences about higher-order mental states, adolescents generate predictive gaze bias at a marked delay relative to adults. Importantly, our results demonstrate that these developmental differences go beyond differences in executive functions (inhibitory control or working memory), and point to distinct expectations between groups and greater uncertainty when predicting actions based on conflicting desires.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/1747021820920213
Uncontrolled keywords: Theory of mind; Adolescence; Development; Visual world Eye-tracking; Executive Function
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2020 10:11 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 14:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Ferguson, Heather J.:
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year