Mechanisms of belief-desire reasoning: Inhibition and bias

Ori Friedman, Alan M. Leslie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Biases in reasoning can provide insight into underlying processing mechanisms. We demonstrate a new bias in children's belief-desire reasoning. Children between 4 and 8 years of age were told a story in which a character was mistaken about which of three boxes contained some object. The character wanted to go to one of the boxes, but only if it did not contain the object. In this scenario, the character would be expected to avoid the box where she falsely believed the object to be, but might go to either of the remaining boxes. Though the character was equally likely to go to either box, children were biased to predict that the character would go to the box that contained the object. In a control task, the character had the same desire but did not have a false belief; in this case, children showed no bias, choosing the two correct answers equally often. The observed pattern of bias was predicted by a developmental model of belief-desire reasoning. Competent belief-desire reasoning depends on a process of selection by inhibition in which the best belief content emerges from a set of candidates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-552
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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