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Convergent Validity

There is evidence that in older children (3-year-olds) and adults, the many varieties of false belief task all test for a single underlying competence (Flynn, 2006, p. 650; Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001). This is significant because there are many variants of false belief tasks which differ, for example, in whether participants are observers or interaction partners, and whether the false belief concerns a location, a category or even essentially involves numerical identity.

Do we also have good evidence that the various false belief tasks designed for infants all test for a single capacity?

‘implicit tasks suffer from a lack of convergent validity. Decades of research with explicit ToM tasks have shown that tasks that differ dramatically in surface features but share the same meta-representational deep structure, such as various false-belief and other meta-representational tasks [...], systematically converge. Proficiency in the different tasks ontogenetically emerges in tandem, and performance on the tasks is highly inter-correlated. By contrast, no systematic correlations have been found between the different types of implicit tasks, nor even within different tasks of the same type, all of which are designed to tap the same underlying construct.’ (Rakoczy, 2022)

Further, Poulin-Dubois & Yott (2017) find evidence for divergence.[1]

Disunity of Theory of Mind

Warnell & Redcay (2019) investigated a range of mindreading tasks with children of different ages as well as adults. They found

‘no clear structure underlying ToM emerged for any developmental period. [...] ToM tasks were minimally correlated in early childhood, in middle childhood, and in adulthood [...] ToM is a diverse construct that likely intersects with an array of other social and cognitive abilities

[...] The sophisticated understanding of others’ minds that underscores mature human social cognition may be an emergent property of varied skills combined with certain social contexts. Critical examination of how and why we measure ToM will offer insight [...] into cognition and behavior more broadly, as the lack of convergence among conventional ToM measures in the current study suggests that the best way forward in ToM research may be to take a step back.’ (Warnell & Redcay, 2019)

See also Beaudoin, Leblanc, Gagner, & Beauchamp (2020, p. 15):

‘The lack of theoretical structure and shared taxonomy in ToM definitions and its underlying composition impedes our ability to fully integrate ToM in a coherent and comprehensive framework linking it to various socio-cognitive abilities, a pervasive issue observed across the domain of social cognition.’

Happé, Cook, & Bird (2017) and Beaudoin et al. (2020) both offer taxonomies for Theory of Mind.


mindreading : The process of identifying a mental state as a mental state that some particular individual, another or yourself, has. To say someone has a theory of mind is another way of saying that she is capable of mindreading.
According to an influential definition offered by Premack & Woodruff (1978, p. 515), for an individual to have a theory of mind its for her to ‘impute mental states to himself and to others’ (my italics). (I have slightly relaxed their definition by changing their ‘and’ to ‘or’ in order to allow for the possibility that there are mindreaders who can identify others’ but not their own mental states.)


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  1. There are, however, studies which find a relation between performance on tasks suitable for infants and tasks used with older children (for example, Meristo, Strid, & Hjelmquist, 2016). ↩︎