The effect of reality-distancing on children’s false belief understanding
The socio-cultural theory has emphasized the effect of the co-constitutive nature of the narrative discourse on FB understanding, whereas simulation theory asserted that imagination is a cognitive ability that scaffolds perspective-taking which underlies children’s developing abilities to understand FBs. Elements of fantasy have been indiscriminately used in correlational and intervention studies that examined the factors that affect children’s understanding of FBs. However, there are two evidence-based reasons to expect that children would benefit from fantasy elements (i.e., increased levels of engagement and reality-distancing inherent in fantastical media contexts). The current project aims to examine the effects of varying degrees of fantasy on false belief (FB) tasks. To do so, the present studies utilize FB tasks (i.e., contents FB and change of location) in which children are presented with FB tasks that include fantastical and realistic characters as protagonists within fantastical and realistic settings, respectively. Study 1 tested the effects of the degree of fantasy and the order of receiving manipulations. The increasing degree of fantasy increased preschoolers' performance on FB tasks. Study 2 explored the same effects with a more targeted sample using an additional fantasy-orientation measure. The results replicate the effect of the degree of fantasy and suggest encountering fantastical content before realistic content selectively scaffolds younger children's performance on FB tasks. This is despite their lack of orientation toward enjoying fantastical content. Thus, the discussion of the findings and future studies emphasizes the significance of reality-distancing provided by the fantastical content included in FB tasks.