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Attributing emotions to false beliefs: Development across discrete emotions

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Social Development

Published online on


Emotion false belief (EFB) is the ability to correctly predict people's emotions given that they hold a false belief (FB). Accumulating evidence suggests that EFB understanding develops after FB understanding; however, the literature presents inconsistencies in this lag. The present study investigated the development of EFB in 85 four‐ and six‐year‐olds, and systematically compared this development to FB understanding across different emotions. Controlling for verbal ability and task demands, 6‐year‐olds scored significantly better on EFB tasks than 4‐year‐olds, and 6‐year‐olds' performance was better than chance. Performance did not vary by emotion. The data supported a developmental precedence of FB to EFB. Results suggest that children's acquisition of EFB is not due solely to verbal ability, FB understanding, or discrete emotion understanding; attributing emotions to beliefs represents a conceptual change in emotion understanding that occurs holistically. These conclusions are discussed in terms of socioemotional development.