Henry M. Wellman's research while affiliated with University of Michigan and other places

Publications (177)

Article
In a recent article in this journal, Packer and Moreno-Dulcey (2022) critique research on social cognition for so often using puppets and dolls in its research tasks instead of real persons. First, they suggest that such tasks have dubious validity including low ecological validity. Then they suggest when children’s performance on social-cognitive...
Article
When young children are tested on social cognition tasks using puppets or dolls, do they exhibit similar, and similarly valid, results, as when they are tested for their understanding using real persons? We tested this question empirically by conducting a meta-analysis (aggregating data across 259 separate studies and 35,189 children) on false-beli...
Article
Children make choices between generosity and greed every day. Often they must also choose between confession or denial of antisocial acts like greed, thereby displaying either honesty or hypocrisy. Such choices pose cognitive challenges that, in theory, might reflect children's developing social-cognitions and affect their daily social lives and de...
Article
The possibility and nature of bilingual advantage for theory of mind (ToM), that is, young bilingual children outperforming their monolingual peers, have been discussed increasingly since the first research on the topic was published in 2003. Because accumulating evidence demonstrates a ToM advantage for bilingual individuals, in this article, we f...
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The National Children's Study Cognitive Health Domain Team developed detailed plans for assessing cognition longitudinally from infancy to early adulthood. These plans identify high-priority aspects of cognition that can be measured efficiently and effectively, and we believe they can serve as a model for future large-scale longitudinal research. F...
Article
Deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children born to hearing parents have profound theory-of-mind (ToM) delays, yet little is known about how providing hearing assistance early in life, through cochlear implants and hearing aids, influences their ToM development. We thus addressed (a) whether young DHH children with early hearing provision developed ToM...
Article
Children acquire extensive knowledge from others. Today, children receive information from not only people but also technological devices, like social robots. Two studies assessed whether young children appropriately trust technological informants. One hundred and four 3-year-olds learned the names of novel objects from either a pair of social robo...
Article
Obligation as defined by Tomasello requires mutually capable parties, but one-sided caregiver relationships reveal its developmental and evolutionary precursors. Specifically, “coercive” emotions may prompt protective action by caregivers toward infant primates, and infants show distress toward caregivers when they appear to violate expectations in...
Chapter
Robots are increasingly a part of children’s lives—teaching in classrooms, comforting children in hospitals, and playing in their homes. This chapter reviews literature on children’s understanding and trust of robots, including the authors’ own emerging research addressing these topics empirically. It demonstrates that children’s understanding of t...
Article
Natural pedagogy emerges early in development, but good teaching requires tailoring evidence to learners’ knowledge. How does the ability to reason about others’ minds support early pedagogical evidence selection abilities? In 3 experiments ( N = 205), we investigated preschool-aged children’s ability to consider others’ knowledge when selecting ev...
Preprint
Natural pedagogy emerges early in development, but good teaching requires tailoring evidence to learners’ knowledge. How does the ability to reason about others’ minds support early pedagogical evidence selection abilities? In three experiments (N = 205), we investigated preschool-aged children’s ability to consider others’ knowledge when selecting...
Article
Two studies of 100 children aged 3–12 years examined theory of mind (ToM) understanding via explanations and predictions in hearing preschoolers and ToM‐delayed deaf children. Study 1's 75 children (31 deaf; 44 hearing) displayed an “explanation advantage,” devising valid epistemic ToM explanations despite failing simpler forced‐choice false‐belief...
Article
Longitudinal tracking of 107 three‐ to‐thirteen‐year‐olds in a cross‐sequential design showed a 6‐step theory of mind (ToM) sequence identified by a few past cross‐sectional studies validly depicted longitudinal ToM development from early to middle childhood for typically developing (TD) children and those with ToM delays owing to deafness or autis...
Article
In this article, I reflect on theory of mind as a field (ToM), how it has developed over the years, and focally on the state of current research and theory. Having begun with preschoolers’ understanding of beliefs and desires, the field now includes research from infancy through late life, contributions and contributors from around the world, resea...
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The Uncanny Valley posits that very human-like robots are unsettling, a phenomenon amply demonstrated in adults but unexplored in children. 240 3-to 18-year-olds viewed one of two robots (machine-like or very human-like) and rated their feelings toward (e.g., "Does the robot make you feel weird or happy?") and perceptions of the robot's capacities...
Article
Persuasion is an essential social skill. Yet its development and underpinnings are poorly understood. In 2 studies, a total of 167 children aged 3 to 12 years took theory of mind (ToM) tests and participated in unscripted, seminaturalistic persuasive conversations. Children were typically developing (TD) or had deafness or autism spectrum disorder...
Chapter
Two theoretical stances and their corresponding bodies of research are currently used to account for the development of children’s concepts of death and afterlife. Bering and colleagues have found that very young children often report that mental capacities persist in deceased animals, and that this tendency decreases across childhood but is still...
Article
A crucial human cognitive goal is to understand and to be understood. But understanding often takes active management. Two studies investigated early developmental processes of understanding management by focusing on young children’s comprehension monitoring. We ask: When and how do young children actively monitor their comprehension of social-comm...
Article
In this article, I reflect on theory of mind as a field, including how it arose and how it developed. My research has been intertwined with this process; beginning right out of graduate school, my career developed along with the field, and I contributed to the field and its development at various points. So this essay also traces my path as I striv...
Article
We examined the sequence of theory of mind (ToM) acquisition in 260 Turkish children (Mage = 53.36 months, SD = 10.37) and the demographic factors associated with it. Children came from 5 different cities in Turkey. Their ToM skills were measured using ToM Scale, which probes various mental state understandings from diverse desires to hidden emotio...
Article
This article briefly outlines the history of the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) since its inception in 1999 through 2016. At its biennial meeting in October of 2015 CDS celebrated 16 years of contributions to the community of cognitive development researchers. This article continues that celebration.
Article
We argue that moral learning, like much of conceptual development more generally, involves development and change in children's intuitive theories of the world. Children's intuitive theories involve coherent and abstract representations of the world, which point to domain-specific, unobservable causal-explanatory entities. From this perspective, ch...
Article
Preverbal infants engage in statistical and probabilistic inference to learn about their linguistic and physical worlds. Do they also employ probabilistic information to understand their social world? Do they infer underlying causal mechanisms from statistical data? Here, we show, with looking-time methods, that 10-month-olds attend to statistical...
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A developmental cascade model was tested to examine longitudinal associations among firstborn children’s aggression, Theory-of-Mind, and antagonism toward their younger sibling during the first year of siblinghood. Aggression and Theory-of-Mind were assessed before the birth of a sibling, and 4 and 12 months after the birth, and antagonism was exam...
Article
Children and adults from the U. S. (Study 1) and China (Study 2) heard about people who died in two types of narrative contexts—medical and religious—and judged whether their psychological and biological capacities cease or persist after death. Most 5- to 6-year-olds reported that all capacities would cease. In the U.S., but not China, there was an...
Article
Research with preschool children shows that explanations are important to them in that they actively seek explanations in their conversations with adults. But, what sorts of explanations do they prefer, and what, if anything, do young children learn from the explanations they receive? Following a preliminary study with adults (N = 67) to establish...
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We examine how understandings of ordinary and extraordinary communication develop. Three to 10-year-old children and adults (N = 183) were given scenarios in which a protagonist wanted help from a human (their parent) or from God. Scenarios varied in whether protagonists expressed their desires aloud (by asking) or silently (by hoping), whether (fo...
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Consequences of theory of mind (ToM) development for daily social lives of children are uncertain. Five to 13-year-olds (N = 195) with typical development, autism, or deafness (both native and late signers) took ToM tests and their teachers reported on their social skills for peer interaction (e.g., leadership, group entry). Groups differed in both...
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Behaviorally, children’s explicit theory of mind (ToM) proceeds in a progression of mental-state understandings: developmentally, children demonstrate accurate explicit desire-reasoning before accurate explicit belief-reasoning. Given its robust and cross-cultural nature, we hypothesize this progression may be paced in part by maturation/specializa...
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Theory of mind (ToM) has long been recognized to play a major role in children's social functioning. However, no direct evidence confirms the causal linkage between the two. In the current study, we addressed this significant gap by examining whether ToM causes the emergence of lying, an important social skill. We showed that after participating in...
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Contemporary research, often with looking-time tasks, reveals that infants possess foundational understandings of their social worlds. However, few studies have examined how these early social cognitions relate to the child’s social interactions and behavior in early development. Does an early understanding of the social world relate to how an infa...
Chapter
Humans are a social species. We not only live socially, but also think socially, accumulating myriad thoughts and knowledge about our social world. A hallmark of this human social cognition is an everyday theory of mind––our ordinary human understanding that persons (self and others) have internal mental states––desires, beliefs, feelings, hopes—th...
Article
This study had two primary aims. First, we compared deaf and hearing children during middle and late childhood on (a) cognitive understanding of basic and advanced theory of mind (ToM) and (b) social dimensions of peer group relations, including popularity, isolation, leadership, and the disposition to interact positively with peers. Second, using...
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Individuals in many cultures believe in omniscient (all-knowing) beings, but everyday representations of omniscience have rarely been studied. To understand the nature of such representations requires knowing how they develop. Two studies examined the breadth of knowledge (i.e., types of knowledge) and depth of knowledge (i.e., amount of knowledge...
Article
I applaud the methods and findings of the target article by Fink and colleagues who demonstrate an important link between theory of mind and children's social lives. In particular, enhanced theory of mind in preschool buffers children from friendlessness in the transition to school. Going further, I suggest needed steps for the field to experimenta...
Article
The experiences of social partners are important motivators of social action. Can infants use such experiences to make predictions about how social agents will behave? Sixteen-month-old infants were introduced to two social pairs. Initial events established within-pair cooperation as well as between-pair conflict involving an individual from each p...
Article
Two studies addressed key theoretical debates in theory of mind (ToM) development by comparing (a) deaf native signers (n = 18), (b) deaf late signers (n = 59), and (c) age-matched hearing persons (n = 74) in childhood (Study 1: n = 81) and adulthood (Study 2: n = 70) on tests of first- and second-order false belief and conversational sarcasm. Resu...
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Traditional looking-time paradigms are often used to assess infants' attention to socio-cognitive phenomena, but the link between these laboratory scenarios and real-world interactions is unclear. The current study investigated hypothesized relations between traditional social-cognitive looking-time paradigms and their real-world counterparts in ca...
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Children and adults often encounter counterintuitive claims that defy their perceptions. We examined factors that influence children's acceptance of such claims. Children aged 3 to 6 years were shown familiar objects (e.g., a rock), were asked to identify the objects, and were then told that each object was something else (e.g., that the rock was s...
Chapter
Behaviorally, theory of mind is a developmental achievement. Yet from behavioral research alone fundamental questions of both developmental continuity and change remain unsettled. Cognitive neuroscientific methods can complement behavioral investigations of theory of mind, and much is already known about the neural correlates of theory of mind in a...
Chapter
Full-text available
Behaviorally, theory of mind is a developmental achievement. Yet from behavioral research alone fundamental questions of both developmental continuity and change remain unsettled. Cognitive neuroscientific methods can complement behavioral investigations of theory of mind, and much is already known about the neural correlates of theory of mind in a...
Article
The ability to interpret and predict the actions of others is crucial to social interaction and to social, cognitive, and linguistic development. The current study provided a strong test of this predictive ability by assessing (1) whether infants are capable of prospectively processing actions that fail to achieve their intended outcome, and (2) ho...
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This study examined how informants' traits affect how children seek information, trust testimony, and make inferences about informants' knowledge. Eighty-one 3- to 6-year-olds and 26 adults completed tasks where they requested and endorsed information provided by one of two informants with conflicting traits (e.g., honesty vs. dishonesty). Particip...
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The emotional reactivity hypothesis holds that, over the course of phylogeny, the selection of animals with less reactive temperaments supported the development of sophisticated social-cognitive skills in several species, including humans (Hare, 2007). In the ontogenetic human case, an emotional reactivity hypothesis predicts that children with les...
Article
The processes and mechanisms of theory-of-mind development were examined via a training study of false-belief conceptions in deaf children of hearing parents (N = 43). In comparison to 2 different control conditions, training based on thought-bubble instruction about beliefs was linked with improved false-belief understanding as well as progress on...
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A central tenet of constructivist models of conceptual development is that children's initial conceptual level constrains how they make sense of new evidence and thus whether exposure to evidence will prompt conceptual change. Yet little experimental evidence directly examines this claim for the case of sustained, fundamental conceptual achievement...
Article
Not only is a mentalistic construal of persons fundamental for adults, but in the last fifteen years considerable evidence has emerged to show that this construal, or some essential parts of it, is early-developing in children. In this chapter we review this evidence, thus outlining the psychological understandings of normally-developing children....
Article
Theory of mind requires belief- and desire-understanding. Event-related brain potential (ERP) research on belief- and desire-reasoning in adults found mid-frontal activations for both desires and beliefs, and selective right-posterior activations only for beliefs. Developmentally, children understand desires before beliefs; thus, a critical questio...
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We propose a new version of the "theory theory" grounded in the computational framework of probabilistic causal models and Bayesian learning. Probabilistic models allow a constructivist but rigorous and detailed approach to cognitive development. They also explain the learning of both more specific causal hypotheses and more abstract framework theo...
Article
Beginning in 1991, Willem Koops challenged me that typical theory of mind data were “not very developmental”. In the intervening years, better methods and clearer findings have addressed this challenge. I argue that the clearest developmental theory-of-mind findings come from combining longitudinal, microgenetic, and developmental scaling methods....
Article
Achieving a sense of self is a crucial task of ordinary development. With which aspects of self do children with autism have particular difficulty? Two prior studies concluded that children with autism are unimpaired in delayed self-recognition; we confirm and clarify this conclusion by examining it in conjunction with another key aspect of self un...
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Three- to 5-year-old (N = 61) religiously schooled preschoolers received theory-of-mind (ToM) tasks about the mental states of ordinary humans and agents with exceptional perceptual or mental capacities. Consistent with an anthropomorphism hypothesis, children beginning to appreciate limitations of human minds (e.g., ignorance) attributed those lim...
Article
Children aged 3-12 years (n = 184) with typical development, deafness, autism, or Asperger syndrome took a series of theory-of-mind (ToM) tasks to confirm and extend previous developmental scaling evidence. A new sarcasm task, in the format of H. M. Wellman and D. Liu's (2004) 5-step ToM Scale, added a statistically reliable 6th step to the scale f...
Article
Two studies addressed pre-schoolers' understanding of the non-physical nature of thinking, as well as their understanding of the physical nature of the brain. Specifically, we considered whether young children understand that entities such as thought-about items are mental, not physical, versus the possibility that they think mental entities are ph...
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To examine cultural contrasts in the ordered sequence of conceptual developments leading to theory of mind (ToM), we compared 135 3- to 6-year-olds (77 Australians; 58 Iranians) on an established 5-step ToM scale (Wellman & Liu, 2004). There was a cross-cultural difference in the sequencing of ToM steps but not in overall rates of ToM mastery. In l...
Article
Consecutive retestings of 92 U.S. preschoolers (n=30), Chinese preschoolers (n=31), and deaf children (n=31) examined whether the sequences of development apparent in cross-sectional results with a theory-of-mind scale also appeared in longitudinal assessment. Longitudinal data confirmed that theory-of-mind progressions apparent in cross-sectional...
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Temperament dimensions influence children's approach to and participation in social interactive experiences which reflect and impact children's social understandings. Therefore, temperament differences might substantially impact theory of mind development in early childhood. Using longitudinal data, we report that certain early temperament characte...
Article
Abstract— Emerging research shows that explanations (a) are important to young children, as evidenced by children frequently seeking and providing them, (b) are sometimes strikingly easier for children to provide than comparable judgments and predictions, and (c) aid children’s learning, thereby not only revealing children’s thinking but also fueli...
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The current study utilized longitudinal data to investigate how theory of mind (ToM) and emotion understanding (EU) concurrently and prospectively predicted young children's moral reasoning and decision making. One hundred twenty-eight children were assessed on measures of ToM and EU at 3.5 and 5.5 years of age. At 5.5 years, children were also ass...
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How and when do children develop an understanding of extraordinary mental capacities? The current study tested 56 preschoolers on false-belief and knowledge-ignorance tasks about the mental states of contrasting agents--some agents were ordinary humans, some had exceptional perceptual capacities, and others possessed extraordinary mental capacities...
Article
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Psychological scientists use statistical information to determine the workings of human behavior. We argue that young children do so as well. Over the course of a few years, children progress from viewing human actions as intentional and goal directed to reasoning about the psychological causes underlying such actions. Here, we show that preschoole...
Chapter
The Course of Theory-of-Mind DevelopmentInfants' Intention UnderstandingsFalse Belief within Belief-Desire ReasoningAutism and DeafnessProgressions in Theory-of-Mind UnderstandingsPrimate Intention UnderstandingBrain BasesConclusions References
Article
What events trigger causal explanatory reasoning in young children? Children's explanations could be triggered by either consistent events (suggesting that explanations serve a confirmatory function) or inconsistent events (suggesting that they promote discovery of new information). In 2 studies with preschool children (N = 80), events that were co...
Article
Our folk psychology involves the ability to reason about free will. In a series of experiments, we looked at young children's ability to reason about their own freedom of choice, and contrast this with their ability to reason about situations that constrain it. We asked preschoolers (Range: 4 y; 1 mo. – 5 y; 7 mo.) whether they had the choice to ha...
Presentation
Adults effortlessly and automatically infer complex pat- terns of goals, beliefs, and other mental states as the causes of others’ actions. Yet before the last decade little was known about the developmental origins of these abilities in early infancy. Our understanding of infant social cognition has now improved dramatically: even preverbal infant...
Article
This research examined children's questions and the reactions to the answers they receive in conversations with adults. If children actively seek explanatory knowledge, they should react differently depending on whether they receive a causal explanation. Study 1 examined conversations following 6 preschoolers' (ages 2-4 years) causal questions in n...
Article
Theory of mind requires an understanding of both desires and beliefs. Moreover, children understand desires before beliefs. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying this developmental lag. Additionally, previous neuroimaging and neurophysiological studies have neglected the direct comparison of these developmentally critical mental-state con...
Article
We examined deaf and hearing children's progression of steps in theory of mind (ToM) development including their understanding of social pretending. Ninety-three children (33 deaf; 60 hearing) aged 3-13 years were tested on a set of six closely matched ToM tasks. Results showed that deaf children were delayed substantially behind hearing children i...
Article
Intention understanding emerges early in human development, manifest in deep and robust fashions even in infants. Overlapping intention understandings, encompassing agents as intentional actors and experiencers, are evident in nonhuman primates in more limited fashions. Intention understandings, of the sort shared by infants and nonhuman primates,...
Article
Preschoolers' causal learning from intentional actions--causal interventions--is subject to a self-agency bias. The authors propose that this bias is evidence-based, in other words, that it is responsive to causal uncertainty. In the current studies, two causes (one child controlled, one experimenter controlled) were associated with one or two effe...
Article
Young children show significant changes in their mental-state understanding as marked by their performance on false-belief tasks. This study provides evidence for activity in the prefrontal cortex associated with the development of this ability. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded as adults (N = 24) and 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old childr...
Article
At what age do infants understand that goals exist independently of the actions that result from them? Exploring infants' understanding of failed intentional actions-when the goal of the action is unfulfilled and thus not apparent in the actor's movements-is a critical step in answering this question. Using a visual habituation paradigm, we assesse...
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The present studies compare young children's explanations and predictions for the biological phenomenon of contamination. In Study 1, 36 preschoolers and 24 adults heard vignettes concerning contamination, and were asked either to make a prediction or to provide an explanation. Even 3-year-olds readily supplied contamination-based explanations, and...
Article
Preschoolers use information from interventions, namely intentional actions, to make causal inferences. We asked whether children consider some interventions to be more informative than others based on two components of an actor's knowledge state: whether an actor possesses causal knowledge, and whether an actor is allowed to use their knowledge in...
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Theory of mind is claimed to develop universally among humans across cultures with vastly different folk psychologies. However, in the attempt to test and confirm a claim of universality, individual studies have been limited by small sample sizes, sample specificities, and an overwhelming focus on Anglo- European children. The current meta-analysis...
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This research examines whether there are continuities between infant social attention and later theory of mind. Forty-five children were studied as infants and then again as 4-year-olds. Measures of infant social attention (decrement of attention during habituation to displays of intentional action) significantly predicted later theory of mind (fal...