A cultural conundrum: Delayed false-belief understanding in Filipino children
Theory of mind (ToM) is the child’s representational understanding of mental states (e.g., true and false beliefs) and how these influence people’s overt behavior. Past research in numerous Western and a few non-Western cultures has suggested that children throughout the world master a key milestone in ToM development, false-belief understanding, by age 5 to 6 years. However, before drawing theoretical conclusions about such apparent cross-cultural synchrony in timing, investigation of a broader range of non-Western cultures is crucial. We selected the Philippines because there has been no known previous study of ToM development in this population. A sample of 78 Filipino children aged 3 through 6 years took three standard false-belief tests and a measure of language ability in their mother tongue. The results revealed strikingly poor ToM performance. Only 12% of the full sample (Mage = 4.95 years) passed any false-belief test at all, and only 15% of those older than 5 years (Mage = 5.54 years; n = 39) displayed ToM by passing two out of three tests. ToM was unrelated to parents’ educational background, family size, and child language ability. Nor could methodological factors (e.g., type of false-belief test used) readily explain Filipino children’s exceptionally slow false-belief mastery. Further study is clearly needed to confirm and extend these intriguing results. Based on past evidence from other cultures, possible influences of parental conversation and socialization styles warrant further exploration in the Filipino context.