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PSYCH211 Lecture Notes - Folk Psychology, Great Dane

Course Code
Ori Friedman

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Chapter 7 Conceptual Development
Many different ideas about what a “concept” is
Thoughts are composed of concepts
Cartoons to be able to get the joke, you have to be able to understand what other people are thinking, or how
they view the world
We have an ability to consider how others see the world, using this ability makes the cartoons funny (ex. what
the characters know, think, believe, and want)
In order to understand how people act (behaviour), you must think about their beliefs and wants
Mental state concepts: know, think, believe, want (ex. your belief is a mental state, someone else thinking about
your belief is using their concept of your mental state
Animals cannot think about beliefs, but they can have them
There is a distinction between having mental states and reasoning about them
Reasoning about these mental states are called: naive psychology (folk psychology), theory of mind, mental
state reasoning
Main points:
1. Generally, understanding and predicting human actions requires the ability to think about beliefs and desires
2. These mental states are invisible
3. Mental states are abstract (difficult to define)
4. Understanding mental states starts relatively early
5. Some mental states (especially beliefs) are representational of the world
How do we investigate children’s reasoning about beliefs?
Tell children a story: Sally puts her ball in the basket, then leaves, Anne moves the ball to the box, Sally
comes back, where will she look for the ball?
To pass the test children cannot just think about where the ball actually is, children have to
understand where Sally thinks (believes) the ball is
Lots of debates about the results
Basic finding is that 3 year olds typically fail, 4 year olds will typically pass
This is a false belief task (Sally had the false belief)...why not use a true belief task?
o True belief task Anne would move the ball while Sally is watching
o Doesn’t test her understanding of her beliefs – it is possible for children to pass the task without
having the understanding of beliefs (just reality is needed)
o Doesn’t test the thing that it’s supposed to test
Different kind of false belief task
o Cheerios box, think that Cheerios are in the box, experimenter shows that Gumbi is in the box,
he ate all the Cheerios, put Gumbi back in the box, what will Mike say is in the box? ...Cheerios
(false belief “deceptive container”)
o When I first showed you this box, before we opened it, what did you think was inside?” 5-year
old will say “Cheerios,” 3-year old will say “Gumbi” (3 year olds can’t apply a false belief to
others, or to themselves)
o “self question” sometimes called “representational change” question
o Ways to get 3 year olds to pass:
1. Highlighting deception
Highlight trickery/deceptive intent
Ex. say the word “trick” a lot, children will be more likely to pass
2. No-see version
Two boxes (red and blue), puppet frog tells the child that the object is under the red
box, frog tells rabbit that the carrot is under the blue box 3 year olds will now
pass the task
Task gets harder again if the child gets to see the object and where it really is
Possible that when child sees the object, it gets “burned” into their brain, and is
harder to not remember it
Chapter 7 Conceptual Development
3. Violation of expectation & anticipatory looking
Children will pass using violation of expectation versions of false beliefs task (at 15
months old)
Measure how long the child stares at what is in front of them without looking away
If the task is simple and non-verbal enough, even babies have some ability to pass
the task
Related task Appearance-Reality Task
o “What does it look like?” and “What is it really?
o 4 year olds pass, typically 3 year olds fail (will answer what it actually is all the times)
however, there are ways that the experimenter can get the 3 year olds to pass
o Ex. looks like a rock, but it actually is a sponge
o Not a false belief task, can be turned into one by asking “If Mike walks in, what will he think it
is?” or “When you first saw this, what did you think it was?”
Theories of “Theory of Mind” Development (rely more on these notes than textbook)
1. ‘Theory theory’ and social interactionists
Child needs to develop a theory of mental states
“child like little scientist” (neo-Piagetian)
Ex. in order to pass the false belief task above, child must develop a theory of mental states
Younger children fail because they have a poor theory (ex. they lack the concept belief, they may have a
flawed/incomplete concept)
Social interactions are important (ex. older siblings children with older siblings tend to do better on
the false belief task)
Problem for this theory: children will look at the right answer during their first year
2. ‘Theory of mind’ module
Module = core knowledge, innate, built-in knowledge
Ability to reason about beliefs is innate (not necessarily present at birth)
Children possess concepts (ex. of belief) even when they fail the false belief task
Children are not “little scientists”
Problem: to explain why children are failing even if they have the concept
Answer to problem: processing limitations lack of inhibitory resources (cannot suppress the knowledge
that they know where the ball really is, children have problems suppressing any/everything)
Artifacts and Natural Kinds of Concepts
Artifacts = human-made objects
Natural kinds = exists from natural causes (ex. animals, wood)
Artifacts almost always have purposes/functions
Natural kinds don’t really have a function (don’t exist for a purpose)
Children (4-10) often believe that things exist for a purpose (everything has a function) not just animals, also
believe that things like rocks have a purpose
This is called promiscuous teleology: view that all kinds of entities (artifacts and natural objects) exist for a
Children will ask “what is it for?” about artifacts, but will not ask that for natural kinds (maybe, if children can
talk for themselves, they understand the difference between artifacts and natural kinds)
Applies slightly more to natural kinds
Ex. “What makes a raccoon a raccoon? What makes raccoons different from skunks? If a raccoon loses its legs, is
it still a raccoon?” ...answer is genetics, but children and people hundreds of years ago don’t know anything
about genetics
What makes a raccoon a raccoon is more than just the surface characteristics
Chapter 7 Conceptual Development
Raccoon’s have an essence that make it what it is, even if you remove some of the surface
New word for essence is DNA
Doesn’t apply for inanimate objects
Belief that things have an underlying nature that one cannot observe directly
Gives objects its identity
Causes members of a category to be similar
People (especially children) might have a belief that things have an essence that makes a thing what it is
Real-life example = stereotypes believing that someone acts in a certain way because of the group they belong
Implications of essentialism:
1. Category members should be expected to share common underlying structure (ex. Great Dane vs. Chiwawa)
2. Innate basis to category membership (if a dog is a dog because it has dog essence, this would be an innate
thing that makes it a dog, should affect children’s beliefs about inheritance)
o Children were told: a newborn kangaroo went to live with snakes
o Will it be good at slithering? Hopping? Will it have a pouch? (snake and kangaroo behaviours)
o Children will assume that the kangaroo will retain the properties of its parents (because it has
kangaroo essence)
o Ex. child of English-speaking parents goes to live in Portugal with Portuguese parents, what language
will it speak? 5-year-olds claim that the child would speak the language of its birth parents
(essentialist view)
3. Sharp and immutable boundaries should be hard to change something’s identity into another thing if they
have an essence that makes them what they are
o Keil transformation studies raccoon skunk
o Children at a fairly young age will share the same intuitions as adults (even if scientists make the
raccoon look like a skunk, they will still say that it is still a raccoon)
Characteristic-to-Defining Features Shift
Difference between characteristic features and defining features
Characteristics typically true, but not always true
Defining features always true
Ex. museums
Characteristics have art and dinosaurs in them (not defining features)
Defining features displays stuff to the public
Characteristic-to-defining feature shift: Younger children base judgments on characteristic features and overlook
defining features (when they are in opposition); Older children (like adults) base judgments on defining features,
and can ignore characteristic features
Usually shifts concept by concept, not a specific age for the whole shift