Child Development 138 (04) - Hembree
Social and Emotional Development
California State University, Sacramento
Fall, 2010 


Observation Assignment #1

Theory of Mind Tasks


Assignment Objectives:

  1. To introduce students to social cognitive (Theory of Mind) research and methodology
  2. To provide an opportunity to observe age-related differences in children’s Theory of Mind 
  3. To encourage critical thinking related to research on young children’s conceptual development

Note: You will need to read the Nguyen & Frye (1999) article (Reading #1) and pp.168-171 of your text before conducting this observation. It is also strongly suggested that you read over and practice the tasks before attempting to conduct them.



Materials needed:
2 small toys or other “treats" (e.g., stickers, not food)
Some crayons and some paper

For this
observation, you and a partner will need to conduct three different Theory of Mind tasks with two children, one about 3-3 1/2 years of age,  and one about 4 1/2 - 5 years of age.  The observations will take about 20 minutes each. You can do your observations with a partner (two persons are needed to conduct the tasks), but you should write up the report independently

You will need to find a desk or table or room away from other children and distractions, and spend some time developing some rapport with the child before beginning the interview. Use Appendix A to record your observations.

I. False Belief Task/Social Activity:

Be sure to record the child's age, gender, and ethnicity (if known) in the appendix. After establishing some rapport with the child (introduce the tasks as "games"), use the following dialog with your partner to introduce the task:

Experimenter 1  (you): “First of all, I want to sing a song with my friend here? Would you like to sing a song with me, EXPERIMENTER2?

Experimenter 2 (your partner): “I sure would. Let's sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. [ENGAGE IN A SINGLE CHORUS OF ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT]

Exp 2: “I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back. I would really like to sing some more  when I get back. See ya.”

Exp 1: “Bye”



Exp 1: “You know what?  I really don't want to sing anymore. I would rather color with EXPERIEMENTER2."

Just prior to Experimenter 2's return, ask the following questions of the child, and record his/her response.

1)     What does EXPERIMENTER 2 think I would like to do when she/he comes back?

2)      What will EXPERIMENTER 2 do when s/he comes back?

When Experimenter 2 returns, begin to color together briefly. You may ask the child to join you.


II. False Belief Task/Physical Object:

Holding up one of the crayons, Experimenter 1 says,

“See this crayon. This is my favorite color. I'm going to put it here so it doesn't get lost" [PUT THE CRAYON TREAT UNDER A CHAIR, DESK OR OTHER OBJECT – OUT OF SIGHT]

Experimenter 2: “I like that color too. Let's make sure it doesn't get lost”.

Exp 1: “I have to go out for a little while. I’ll be right back.  See ya.”

Exp 2: “Bye”



Exp 2: “You know what?  I’m going to put this in a safer place” [PLACE CRAYON IN ANOTHER PLACE OUT OF SIGHT]

Just before Experimenter 1 returns, ask the following questions of the child, and record his/her response.

1)      Where does EXPERIMENTER 1 think the crayon is?

2)      Where will EXPERIMENTER 1 look for the crayon?

In addition, have the child retrieve the object to show that s/he knows where the object actually is. Put the crayons aside.


III. Deception task:

In this task, the child will play the hiding “game” with one of the experimenters. The procedure is similar to the second false belief task, except that the child will actively engage in the task with one experimenter.

Get the treat out and ask the child to put it anywhere he/she likes (out of sight) while both experimenters are in the room. One of the Experimenters should then leave for about a minute.  The remaining experimenter should then say to the child:

“Let’s play a game.  Why don’t we try to trick EXPERIMENTER so s/he can’t find the TREAT (sticker, pencil, etc.)”

The child should then be encouraged to hide the treat elsewhere (out of sight).  When the experimenter returns, ask the following questions:

1)      Where does EXPERIMENTER  think the TREAT is?

2)      Where will EXPERIMENTER  look for the TREAT?

In addition, have the child retrieve the object to show that s/he knows where the object actually is. 

 Record the child's responses verbatim.

Observation #1 - Report/Reflection:

Please address the following questions (word process, please). You may discuss your observations and interviews with your partner (or anyone else), but the reflection itself should be written independently.

1) Using your text and lecture notes, define Theory of Mind and briefly discuss what previous research suggests about age differences in children’s ability to do Theory of Mind tasks. Discuss also why younger children tend to fail false belief tasks. Briefly summarize the Nguyen & Frye study (reading #1) - what did they do (method) and find (results)?

2) What did we hypothesize in our study with respect to age and task differences? 

3) Describe the individual children you interviewed and the class sample as a wholeBriefly summarize the procedures employed in this study.

4) What did you find in your individual interviews? Were your observations consistent with what we expected to observe? Attach (and refer to) your appendix.

5) What were the results of the class sample? What statistical test(s) were employed and what were the results of the test(s)? Be sure to attach the table we compiled during the lab session, and describe what the table shows

6) Explain the results. Are they consistent with what we hypothesized? Why or why not? 

7) Evaluate the procedure as a measure of children's ToM. Do you think the tasks/procedure could be improved upon?  How so? 

8) Of what significance is ToM in children's social development? What might future researchers do to investigate this topic?


Back to top


Send problems, comments or suggestions to: Updated: August 25, 2010