Metalinguistic awareness and theory of mind: Just two words for the same thing?

M. Doherty, J. Perner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Citations (Scopus)


Three- to 5-year-old children were tested on a traditional False Belief task, in which children have to predict where a protagonist will look for an unexpectedly moved object, and a new metalinguistic task. In this task children named an item (e.g., "rabbit") and they had to monitor that another person used a synonym for naming the same item (e.g., "bunny"). Both tasks were mastered about the age of 4 years with a strong correlation between the two tasks that remained above .70 even after partialling out control measures and verbal intelligence. Moreover, younger children's difficulties with the metalinguistic task did not extend to a control task of equivalent logical structure and complexity. A simplified version of the task in which children had to produce synonyms themselves yielded very similar results. The findings confirm that metalinguistic awareness can be demonstrated around 4 years and they support the theory that the ability to understand belief relates to the development of understanding representations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-305
Number of pages27
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 1998

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