Louisa Kulke and Hannes Rakoczy

Testing the role of verbal narration in implicit Theory of Mind tasks

Journal of Cognition and Development

Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to attribute mental states to agents, has usually been measured with explicit verbal tasks and found to develop slowly during the preschool years. New implicit ToM measures have lately revolutionized the field by suggesting that ToM may be present much earlier in development. However, recent replication studies of implicit ToM present a complex pattern of failed, partial and successful attempts. The big challenge is to identify an underlying system to this pattern that can explain why some tasks replicate while others do not. The rationale of the present study was to address this challenge by investigating one potential factor that may explain patterns of (non-)replications of implicit measures, namely elements of verbal narration in anticipatory looking tasks. Sixty-seven 4- to 5-year-old children completed modified versions of two different anticipatory looking implicit false belief tasks which recently proved difficult to replicate. The main modification was that verbal narration was added to the original stimulus videos. Results revealed that original looking patterns could still not be replicated. There was no improvement in one task, while a slight improvement was observed in the other task. In conclusion, adding verbal narration does not necessarily improve the replicability of anticipatory ToM tasks, suggesting either that these measures might not be sufficiently sensitive to tap implicit ToM, or that other factors are crucial for successful replications.