Limits in Reasoning about False Beliefs in Adults: the Effect of Priming or the Curse of Knowledge?

Abstract

Birch & Bloom (2007, Psych. Sc. 18, 382-386) suggest that adults' reasoning about others’ mental states is influenced by their privileged knowledge about reality. When asked where a person described in the story would search for a missing object, subjects tend to judge with higher probability that the person would search in a particular box, when they know that the object is indeed in that box. However, the results of their experiment could be an effect of unintended priming in the materials, i.e., the increased attention towards the box might be also caused by reading about it in the task instructions. In a new version of the experiment, we controlled for this factor by priming different locations in the instructions. The results show that it is unlikely that priming is the source of the Birch and Bloom's observations: only knowledge about reality changes the strategies in reasoning about others’ actions.


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