How to help: can more active behavioral measures help transcend the infant false-belief debate?
Allen, J. W. P.
New Ideas in Psychology
63 - 72
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The use of looking time procedures for the claim that infants understand other's false-beliefs has drawn criticism. In response, Buttelmann, Carpenter, and Tomasello (2009) have argued for the use of a more active behavioral measure involving children's willingness to help others. However, the current study challenges Buttelmann et al.’s response on both theoretical and methodological grounds. Theoretically, Buttelmann et al. take a mindreading framework for granted and are thus committed to the same type of “rich” interpretations that have accompanied infant looking procedures more broadly. Methodologically, the current study challenges Buttelmann et al.’s interpretation that children were using the adult's false-belief to determine how to help in this paradigm. To test our alternative perspective, mentalistic and non-mentalistic interpretations of preschooler's helping behavior were compared. In the original study, the adult's false-belief was conflated with the playing of a trick. When these two factors were separated, children's helping behavior was not consistent with the adult's false-belief. Second, when the situation was characterized in terms of a hiding scenario (instead of playing a trick), older children altered their helping behavior accordingly. Together, these results provided evidence that children in the active-helping paradigm did not use the adult's false-belief to determine how to help and that the broader social situation is an important variable for understanding other's actions. In conclusion, the use of more active behavioral measures alone does not resolve the controversy that has played out with respect to infant looking procedures. Instead, any adequate methodological modifications must be accompanied by theoretical considerations as well.