The Role of Simple and Complex Working Memory Strategies in the Development of First-order False Belief Reasoning: A Computational Model of Transfer of Skills


In their fourth year, most children start to understand that someone else might have a false belief, which is different from the reality that the children know. The most studied experimental task to test this development is called the first-order false belief task. What kind of prior cognitive skills help children to pass the false belief task? There are hundreds of correlational studies that have shown that language and executive functions (such as inhibition and working memory) play a role. Moreover, several training studies have shown the importance of language and inhibition in the development of false belief reasoning. However, to the best of our knowledge there has been no training study (with normally developing children) to investigate the role of working memory strategies in the development of false belief reasoning. We present here a computational cognitive model to investigate transfer from working memory strategies to false belief reasoning. For this reason, in addition to the false belief task, we constructed two tasks that children encounter in their daily life: a pencil task (simple working memory) and a marble task (complex working memory). Our simulation results confirm our hypothesis that there is more transfer from the marble task to the first-order false belief task than from the pencil task to the first-order false belief task, because of the more complex working memory strategies that appear to be necessary in the false belief task. The results of our simulations suggest conceptual predictions to be tested experimentally.