Josef Perner

Josef Perner
University of Salzburg · Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience

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205
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Publications

Publications (205)
Article
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The standard view on explicit theory of mind development holds that children around the age of 4 years start to ascribe beliefs to themselves and others, typically tested with false belief (FB) tasks. The present study (N = 95, 53 female, 41 male, Austrian, 41 to 80 months) systematically investigated the puzzling phenomenon that FB achievers (FB+)...
Article
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The litmus test for the development of a metarepresentational Theory of Mind is the false belief (FB) task in which children have to represent how another agent misrepresents the world. Children typically start mastering this task around age four. Recently, however, a puzzling finding has emerged: Once children master the FB task, they begin to fai...
Article
Comparing knowledge with belief can go wrong in two dimensions: If the authors employ a wider notion of knowledge, then they do not compare like with like because they assume a narrow notion of belief. If they employ only a narrow notion of knowledge, then their claim is not supported by the evidence. Finally, we sketch a superior teleological view...
Chapter
Mentalizing like theory of mind is often not more than a cover term for social cognition that involves reasoning with mental terms, regardless of its precise nature: use of a theory, simulation, or teleology based on practical reasoning. We advocate that research should help differentiate between these options and not treat it as a uniform ability...
Article
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Increasing evidence suggests that counterfactual reasoning is involved in false belief reasoning. Because existing work is correlational, we developed a manipulation that revealed a signature of counterfactual reasoning in participants’ answers to false belief questions. In two experiments, we tested 3- to 14-year-olds and found high positive corre...
Preprint
Do children and adults engage in spontaneous Theory of Mind (ToM)? Accumulating evidence from anticipatory looking (AL) studies suggests that they do. But a growing body of studies failed to replicate these original findings. This paper presents the first step of a large-scale multi-lab collaboration dedicated to testing the robustness of spontaneo...
Article
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We use mental files theory to provide an integral theory of children’s diverse dual naming problems and why these problems are overcome when children pass the false belief test. When an object is encountered under different appearances or given different verbal labels, two distinct representations (mental files) may be deployed for that single obje...
Article
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Hubs emerge in structural and resting state network analysis as areas highly connected to other parts of the brain and have been shown to respond to several task domains in functional imaging studies. A cognitive explanation for this multi-functionality is still wanting. We propose, that hubs subserve domain-general meta-cognitive functions, releva...
Article
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With their Duplo task, Rubio-Fernández and Geurts (2013) challenged the assumption that children under 4 years of age cannot pass the standard false belief test. In an attempt to replicate this task on a sample of 73 children aged 32-51 months, we added a standard change of location false belief task as well as a Duplo true belief task. Performance...
Article
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Judgments about another person's visual perspective are impaired when the self-perspective is inconsistent with the other-perspective. This is a robust finding in healthy samples as well as in schizophrenia (SZ). Studies show evidence for the existence of a reverse effect, where an inconsistent other-perspective impairs the self-perspective. Such s...
Article
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We investigate the brain activations when identifying a newly encountered individual as being the same as a person previously perceived, a fundamental but seldom acknowledged process. In an identity condition, two faces had to be identified as the same person in contrast to a control condition, in which two faces had to be recognised as belonging t...
Article
The commentary by Baillargeon, Buttelmann and Southgate raises a number of crucial issues concerning the replicability and validity of measures of false belief in infancy. Although we agree with some of their arguments, we believe that they underestimate the replication crisis in this area. In our response to their commentary, we first analyze the...
Article
There is an ongoing debate about the involvement of Theory of Mind (ToM) processes in Visual Perspective Taking (VPT). In an fMRI study (Schurz et al., 2015), we borrowed the positive features from a novel VPT task - which is widely used in behavioral research - to study previously overlooked experimental factors in neuroimaging studies. However, a...
Article
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Influential studies showed that 25-month-olds and neurotypical adults take an agent's false belief into account in their anticipatory looking patterns (Southgate et al. 2007 Psychol. Sci.18, 587–592 (doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01944.x); Senju et al. 2009 Science325, 883–885 (doi:10.1126/science.1176170)). These findings constitute central pillars...
Article
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We argue for teleology as a description of the way in which we ordinarily understand others’ intentional actions. Teleology starts from the close resemblance between the reasoning involved in understanding others’ actions and one’s own practical reasoning involved in deciding what to do. We carve out teleology’s distinctive features more sharply by...
Article
The development and relation of counterfactual reasoning and false belief understanding were examined in 3- to 7-year-old children (N = 75) and adult controls (N = 14). The key question was whether false belief understanding engages counterfactual reasoning to infer what somebody else falsely believes. Findings revealed a strong correlation between...
Article
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Social animals frequently rely on information from other individuals. This can be costly in case the other individual is mistaken or even deceptive. Human infants below 4 years of age show proficiency in their reliance on differently reliable informants. They can infer the reliability of an informant from few interactions and use that assessment in...
Data
Additional information on method. (DOCX)
Article
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Mental files theory explains why children pass many perspective taking tasks like the false belief test around age 4 (Perner & Leahy, 2016). It also explains why older children struggle to understand that beliefs about an object depend on how one is acquainted with it (intensionality or aspectuality). If Heinz looks at an object that is both a die...
Article
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This article challenges the claim that young children’s helping responses in Buttelmann, Carpenter, and Tomasello’s (2009) task are based on ascribing a false belief to a mistaken agent. In our first Study 18- to 32-month old children (N=28) were more likely to help find a toy in the false belief than in the true belief condition. In Study 2, with...
Article
In this quantitative review, we specified the anatomical basis of brain activity reported in the Temporo-Parietal Junction (TPJ) in Theory of Mind (ToM) research. Using probabilistic brain atlases, we labeled TPJ peak coordinates reported in the literature. This was carried out for four different atlas modalities: (i) gyral-parcellation, (ii) sulco...
Article
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In visual perspective taking (vPT) one has to concern oneself with what other people see and how they see it. Since seeing is a mental state, developmental studies have discussed vPT within the domain of “theory of mind (ToM)” but imaging studies have not treated it as such. Based on earlier results from several meta-analyses, we tested for the ove...
Article
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There is converging evidence that over the course of the second year children become good at various fairly sophisticated forms of pro-social activities, such as helping, informing and comforting. Not only are toddlers able to do these things, they appear to do them routinely and almost reliably. A striking feature of these interventions, emphasize...
Article
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We review nine current neurocognitive theories of how theory of mind (ToM) is implemented in the brain and evaluate them based on the results from a recent meta-analysis by Schurz et al. (2014), where we identified six types of tasks that are the most frequently used in imaging research on ToM. From theories about cognitive processes being associat...
Article
The main thrust of this paper is to argue that teleology is the way by which we tend to understand ourselves and others in routine cases. Since teleology has an inbuilt slant towards cooperation, it may be the essence of what made Homo sapiens, starting with Homo heidelbergensis, the cooperative species it is. We present the critical features of th...
Article
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We provide a cognitive analysis of how children represent belief using mental files. We explain why children who pass the false belief test are not aware of the intensionality of belief. Fifty-one 3½- to 7-year old children were familiarized with a dual object, e.g., a ball that rattles and is described as a rattle. They observed how a puppet agent...
Article
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We investigate the theory that the left inferior parietal lobe (IPL) is closely associated with tracking potential differences of perspective. Developmental studies find that perspective tasks are mastered at around 4 years of age. Our first study, meta-analyses of brain imaging studies shows that perspective tasks specifically activate a region in...
Article
Visual perspective taking is a fundamental feature of the human social brain. Previous research has mainly focused on explicit visual perspective taking and contrasted brain activation for other- versus self-perspective judgments. This produced a conceptual gap to theory of mind studies, where researchers mainly compared activation for taking anoth...
Article
We use mental files to present an analysis of children's developing understanding of identity in alternative naming tasks and belief. The core assumption is that younger children below the age of about 4 years create different files for an object depending on how the object is individuated (e.g., as a rabbit or as an animal). They can anchor them t...
Article
I applaud Ruffman for cautioning us against interpreting early sensitivity to others’ beliefs as evidence for an innate theory of mind and for making room for learning. In turn, however, I caution against his claim that all infants need is to understand that people act depending on what they perceive. Instead, infants may keep experiential records...
Article
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Children approach counterfactual questions about stories with a reasoning strategy that falls short of adults’ Counterfactual Reasoning (CFR). It was dubbed “Basic Conditional Reasoning” (BCR) in Rafetseder et al. (Child Dev 81(1):376–389, 2010). In this paper we provide a characterisation of the differences between BCR and CFR using a distinction...
Article
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We meta-analyzed imaging studies on theory of mind and formed individual task groups based on stimuli and instructions. Overlap in brain activation between all task groups was found in the mPFC and in the bilateral posterior TPJ. This supports the idea of a core network for theory of mind that is activated whenever we are reasoning about mental sta...
Article
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Counterfactual reasoning (CFR)-mentally representing what the world would be like now if things had been different in the past-is an important aspect of human cognition and the focus of research in areas such as philosophy, social psychology, and clinical psychology. More recently, it has also gained broad interest in cognitive developmental psycho...
Article
This study tested one hundred and nine 3- to 6-year-old children on a knowledge-ignorance task about knowledge in humans (mother, baby) and God. In their responses, participants not reliably grasping that seeing leads to knowing in humans (pre-representational) were significantly influenced by own knowledge and marginally by question format. Moreov...
Article
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We performed a quantitative meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies to identify brain areas which are commonly engaged in social and visuo-spatial perspective taking. Specifically, we compared brain activation for visual-perspective taking to activation for false belief reasoning, which requires awareness of perspective to understand someo...
Article
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Counterfactual thinking is ubiquitous in everyday life and an important aspect of cognition and emotion. Although counterfactual thought has been argued to differ from processing factual or hypothetical information, imaging data which elucidate these differences on a neural level are still scarce. We investigated the neural correlates of processing...
Article
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Based on the Theory of Magnitude – postulating a functional interaction between the programming of actions and the processing of numerical magnitude (Walsh, 2003) – it was argued that grasping should be influenced by numerical magnitude. This theory was supported by behavioural data showing an influence of numerical magnitude on various kinematic a...
Article
This chapter scrutinizes the rich pool of behavioural measures of metacognition used with animals for devising new procedures that do not depend on verbalizing mental states for assessing metacognition in young children and infants. To help select the optimal methods I formulated two conceptual problems besetting the metacognitive interpretation of...
Article
Humans have the ability to monitor their own cognition and change their behaviour based on information gleaned from that monitoring. We think about our own thinking, and are often fully aware of our mental states. This metacognitive ability is closely linked to, and may be the basis for, human consciousness. This chapter states that some non-human...
Book
Metacognition has been described as 'thinking about thinking', and metacognition research has become a rapidly growing field of interdisciplinary research in the cognitive sciences. There have been major changes in this field recently, stimulated by the controversial issues of metacognition in nonhuman animals and in early infancy. Consequently the...
Article
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The objective of this study was to describe the developmental progression of counterfactual reasoning from childhood to adulthood. In contrast to the traditional view, it was recently reported by Rafetseder and colleagues that even a majority of 6-year-old children do not engage in counterfactual reasoning when asked counterfactual questions (Child...
Article
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Understanding rational actions requires perspective taking both with respect to means and with respect to objectives. This study addresses the question of whether the two kinds of perspective taking develop simultaneously or in sequence. It is argued that evidence from competitive behavior is best suited for settling this issue. A total of 71 kinde...
Article
Our main points are that executive function (self control) relates to the development of a theory of mind (ToM), in particular around the ages of three to five years, and that a strong contender for explaining this relationship is that a theory of mind is necessary for achieving higher levels of executive functioning (EF). Following a discussion of...
Article
"Theory of mind" is primarily a label for the research area that investigates the conceptual system that underlies our ability to impute mental states (what we know, think, want, feel, etc.) to others and ourselves. The study of these concepts is essential for our understanding of memory insofar as memory is not just storage of information, but...
Article
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Evidence is accumulating that infants are sensitive to people's false beliefs, whereas children pass the standard false belief test at around 4 years of age. Debate currently centres on the nature of early and late understanding. We defend the view that early sensitivity to false beliefs shown in 'online tasks' (where engagement with ongoing events...
Article
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Previous research yielded conflicting results about when children can accurately assess their epistemic states in different hiding tasks. In Experiment 1, ninety-two 3- to 7-year-olds were either shown which object was hidden inside a box, were totally ignorant about what it could be, or were presented with two objects one of which was being put in...
Article
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This chapter demonstrates that, regardless of whether a given language requires tensed that-complements to express beliefs and desires, children understand desires before beliefs. For example, German-speaking children understand and talk about desire substantially earlier than about belief, despite the fact that their language requires tensed that-...
Article
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Studies using visual illusions to demonstrate a dissociation within the visual system can provide relevant and decisive data only if certain methodological points are taken into account. Although, our previous work (Stöttinger et al. in Exp Brain Res 202:88-97, 2010) followed these points, the task made use of only 2-D stimuli which may raise doubt...
Article
Counterfactual reasoning about how events could have turned out better is associated with the feeling of regret. However, developmental studies show a discrepancy between the onset of counterfactual reasoning (at 3 years) and the feeling of regret (at 6 years). In four experiments we explored possible reasons. Experiment 1 (3- to 6-year-old childre...
Article
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Is knowledge structured and acquired as independent facts and concepts, as parcels of independent domains, or as domains that share conceptual abilities? For an answer, we looked at the development of two concepts, belief and identity. These concepts are not part of the same domain, but the application of both depends on the common ability to separ...
Article
Our first experiment provided evidence for the view that visual feedback in transitive reasoning tasks of the Bryant & Trabasso (1971) variety results in graded linear encoding of the length series whereas linguistic feedback results in dichotomous encoding. When 6–8-year-old children had to tackle transitive tasks in which the visual formation of...
Article
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In a training study, the authors addressed whether or not preschoolers' difficulty with false belief is due to a domain-specific problem with mental states. Following Slaughter's (199836. Slaughter , V. ( 1998 ). Children's understanding of pictorial and mental representations . Child Development , 69 , 321 – 332 . [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [CS...
Chapter
The social milieus of animals can be complex, ranging from almost completely asocial to monogamous pairs (no mean feat) to entire societies. To adapt to a constantly shifting environment of individuals striving toward their own goals, animals appear to have evolved specialized cognitive abilities. As appealing and intuitive as the idea of social co...
Article
This study looks at two emotions that are determined by whether a person's mental state matches or mismatches the state of the world. Results show that children from 3 years understand that being ‘pleased’ is a function of the match or mismatch between desire and reality. That is between what a person wants and what a person gets. A structurally si...
Article
Children show understanding of a mistaken story character's actions in their visualorienting responses before they show this in their answers to test questions. Clements and Perner (1994) interpreted the visual responses as reflecting implicit understanding (implicit-knowledge hypothesis). The present study explores three possible ways of saving th...
Article
We tested the prediction that there is a direct developmental link between understanding false belief, understanding that reflex movements are not intentional actions and the ability to inhibit interfering action tendencies. The common ability consists of the understanding of mental states as representations with causal efficacy (Perner, 1991). One...
Article
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We investigate the common development of children's ability to "look back in time" (retrospection, episodic remembering) and to "look into the future" (prospection). Experiment 1 with 59 children 5 to 8.5 years old showed mental rotation, as a measure of prospection, explaining specific variance of free recall, as a measure of episodic remembering...
Chapter
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This chapter discusses Donald Davidson’s claim that there is an “insuperable problem in giving a full description of the emergence of thought,” and how he expresses relief at not working “in the field of developmental psychology.” This claim is reiterated here and it is argued that Davidson was correct regarding the depth and difficulty of the prob...
Article
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In a study with 79 3-year-olds, we confirm earlier findings that separating the sorting dimensions improve children's performance on the Dimensional Change Card Sorting (DCCS) task. We also demonstrate that the central reason for this facilitation is that the two sorting dimensions are not integral features of a single object. Spatial separation of...
Article
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In most developmental studies the only error children could make on counterfactual tasks was to answer with the current state of affairs. It was concluded that children who did not show this error are able to reason counterfactually. However, children might have avoided this error by using basic conditional reasoning (Rafetseder, Cristi-Vargas, & P...
Chapter
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This chapter focuses on children’s ability to shift between different ways of thinking about an object, which is termed object-based set-shifting. First, we outline crucial developments in social cognition (theory of mind) and executive functions in the preschool years. At around age 4, children master (e.g.,) the false belief task and the Dimensio...
Article
This study investigated at what point in development 3- to 6-year-old children begin to demonstrate counterfactual reasoning by controlling for fortuitously correct answers that result from basic conditional reasoning. Basic conditional reasoning occurs when one applies typical regularities (such as "If 'whenever' it doesn't rain the street is dry"...
Article
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The perception versus action hypothesis of Goodale and Milner (Trends Neurosci 15:20-25, 1992) and Milner and Goodale (The visual brain in action. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995) postulated two different pathways within the visual system--one for action and one for perception. With the help of pictorial illusions, evidence for this dissociat...
Article
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Franz and Gegenfurtner (2008) argue that the evidence for a division of labour within the visual system for action and perception is flawed because perception is often measured by manual estimation, which responds in general with a larger slope to a change of physical size than does adjusting. Therefore results obtained under manual estimation have...
Article
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Theories of mind draw on processes that represent mental states and their computational connections; simulation, in addition, draws on processes that replicate (Heal 1986) a sequence of mental states. Moreover, mental simulation can be triggered by input from imagination instead of real perceptions. To avoid confusion between mental states concerni...
Article
In this chapter we establish what it is for something to be implicit. The approach to implicit knowledge is taken from Dienes and Perner (1999) and Perner and Dienes (1999), which relates the implicit-explicit distinction to knowledge representations. To be clear about exactly what our claims are we first discuss what a representation is, what it i...
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The most direct assessment of episodic memory is provided by Remember versus Know judgments of recalled or recognised items. We investigate whether Remember judgments reflect episodic memories as a re-experience of formerly experienced events (mental time travel). If they do, they must obey the direct experience constraint: only directly experience...
Article
The discovery that 3-year-old children have difficulties understanding false belief has fuelled two decades of research directed at understanding why children have this problem. One unresolved question is whether false belief problems are due to difficulties with mental or representational aspects of mental states. This question has implications fo...
Article
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ABSTRACT— In the preschool years, there are marked improvements in theory of mind (ToM) and executive functions. And, children’s competence in these two core cognitive domains is associated with their academic achievement. Therefore, training ToM and executive control could be a valuable tool for improving children’s success in school. This article...