The development of joint belief-desire inferences

Hilary Richardson, Chris Baker, Joshua Tenenbaum, Rebecca Saxe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Human beings infer complex mental states given very little information—a facial expression, a sarcastic tone, or even a simple behavior. Previous work suggests that adults make joint belief and desire inferences based on an actor’s path, and that these inferences are well-explained by a Bayesian framework (Baker, Saxe, & Tenenbaum, 2011). We investigate the development of this ability by assessing mental state inferences made by children ages 3-6 after watching a short movie. Our results suggest that young children spontaneously make inductive inferences about desires or preferences, and that the ability to infer belief from behavior develops between ages 3-6, and possibly throughout later childhood. We formulate three computational models that capture the developmental shift between nonrepresentational and representational theory of mind, and show that these models capture qualitative patterns in the children’s data.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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