Children’s Understanding of Others’ Minds: Results Achieved and Challenges Ahead‏

Children’s Understanding of Others’ Minds: Results Achieved and Challenges Ahead

Marco Fenici (University of Sienna Italy)


In the Eighties, by employing the false belief test experimental paradigm, researchers showed that children become able to explicitly predict one’s behaviour based on the attribution of beliefs and desires to her only around age four. This was considered evidence that, at age four, children acquire a theory about the functioning of others’ minds—i.e., a “theory of mind”. Since then, several proposals correlating theory of mind acquisition to cognitive development have been advanced. By focusing the empirical literature, I will propose that the ability to attribute mental states to others to predict their behaviour depends on the acquisition of several cognitive competences provided by both modular and non-modular psychological processes. In particular, language and syntax acquisition play a pivotal role. Children master the fundamental dynamics underlying the attribution of mental states to others by starting understanding parental conversation about people’s reasons to act.

Web References:

·         Wikipedia, at the entry “theory of mind”:

·         Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, at the entry “Folk Psychology as a Theory”:

·         An updated discussion about the relation between theory of mind acquisition and different indices of linguistic competence is the paper by Karen Milligan, Janet Wilde Astington, and Lisa Ain Dack (2007), Language and Theory of Mind: Meta-Analysis of the Relation Between Language Ability and False-belief Understanding:



Short biography:

Marco Fenici graduated in logics at the University of Florence in 2005 with a dissertation about epistemic logics and the problem of logical omniscience. Since 2006, he is a student at the Doctoral School of Cognitive Sciences at the University of Siena. His research concerns theoretical and empirical issues about children’s acquisition of the concept of belief. He is also interested in the epistemology of psychology. On this topic, he edited Psychology and Psychologies: which Epistemology?, special issue of Humana.Mente, (n. 11, October 2009). He has been visiting student at the Technische Universitaet (Dresden), at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (Rome), at the New Bulgarian University (Sofia), and at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst).


Affiliation: Doctoral School of Cognitive Sciences, University of Siena