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The Role of Age in The Theory of Mind of Children

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There are many aspects that go into the development of a child in order for them to grow into proper adults. Around age four to five years old, an important social-cognitive behavior occurs that allow the child to no longer think in an egocentrically fashion but to think from the point of view from others. They are then able to decipher between different emotions, understand beliefs from others and know what someone other than themselves may be feeling through environmental context clues known as the theory of mind. This is very crucial to development as social skills that are practiced as a young child will help the child make reliable connections to those around them. Being able to understand the needs, feelings, desires and ways of thinking is very determinate of how that child will further mature in life. The play that the young children engage in everyday will help him or her read situations involving the others they are playing with by communicating and receiving feedback about others thoughts and feelings. Overall, children of certain age, typically under four years old, will encounter a false belief task. This task is defined when a child lacks the understanding that their reality varies from that of others around them. Furthermore, false-belief task is a frequently used methodology to examine theory of mind. 

In an article dedicated to theory of mind, it is defined as the ability to impute mental states to oneself and to others. The ability to make inferences about what other people believe to be the case in a given situation allows one to predict what they will do (Leekam). Thus is has been studied that the paradigm that can be used with very young children based on the case where the child’s own belief is different from someone else’s belief. (Baron-Cohen). Analyzing these theories and tasks allow researchers to understand why children do what they do and further, can help in the reasoning as to why people are the way they are. The most famous empirical discovery…three-year-olds tend to fail a certain false-belief task whereas four-year-olds tend to succeed on the task which will be explained more in depth later in this writing. There have been experiments that show if and when a child gains the ability to not think egotistically and to consider the point of views of those around them. Delving deeper, it is suggested that girls will show a quicker development of theory of mind and will answer correctly when presented with a false belief task. Girls have been found to be oriented to the faces of others at an earlier age than boys. Such selective attention, which orients females to increased social bonding in preparation for later gender roles, may also serve to promote increased perspective.

Overall, children who are older and have more experience practicing social interactions will have a greater understanding of those around them and display more instances of theory of mind. Those who are younger will continue to think egotistically and will not perceive point of view from others. Also those who are girls will have more play practice in understanding the thoughts of others as girls are more social leading them to more quickly seeing others’ point of views. Lastly, piecing all the information gathered, if a child is a girl and is older (over the age of 4), they will have a better grasp of theory of mind and correctly participate in a false belief task.


  • Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A.M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37 – 46. 
  • Bauminger-Zviely N. (2013). False-Belief Task. In F. R. Volkmar (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Goldman, A. I. (2012). Theory of Mind. Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, 
  • Perner, J., Leekam, S. R., & Wimmer, H. (1987). Three-year-olds’ difficulty with false belief: The case for a conceptual deficit. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 125-137. 

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