Theory of Mind experiments to do at home with your children

Last week Dr Sarah Rose, course leader for BSc Psychology and Child Development Award blogged about recreating some of the Piagetian Experiments with her children.

This week they have been having a go at some Theory of Mind tasks. These tasks are particularly suitable for children between the ages of about 3- and 7-years-old. We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments, please tweet us @StaffsPsych or add your comments to this post!

Background

Psychologists are interested in how humans make sense of the world, this includes how they make sense of what others think. This ability to theorise and predict what someone else might be thinking develops with age and is called ‘Theory of Mind’.

This skill of predicting what another person may desire, believe, or feel usually develops between 3 and 7 years of age. The more psychologists have studied the development of theory of mind the more they have realised that it is not a single skill, instead it is a series of complex skills which develop over time.


False Belief Task 1: Sally and Ann

First we have had a go at recreating some of the classic Theory of Mind tasks testing ‘false beliefs’. These tasks require a child to understand that others may not have knowledge that they do, and which is correct. Therefore, they are called ‘false belief’ tasks as they require the child to recognise that someone else may have a ‘false belief’ about a situation.

One of the most famous of these false belief tasks is the story about two dolls, Sally and Anne:

Sally has a marble which she puts in a basket. She then goes on a walk. While she is on the walk Anne moves the marble to a box. Sally comes back from her walk and the child is asked where Sally will look for her marble.

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to respond that Sally will look in the basket as she doesn’t know that the marble has been moved to the box.

Both my 4- and 6-year old seemed to enjoy this and found it relatively easy. If you would like to see the videos do have a look here. I used a paper prompt for the story about Sally and Anne, if you look on google you will find a few to choose from.


False Belief Task 2: Smarties Tube

Other versions of the false belief task have also been developed. Probably the most famous of these is the Smarties tube task. In this a child is shown a smarties tube (or some other familiar container, we used a pencil box).

The child is asked what they think is inside, as long as you have chosen something the child is familiar with, they should give you the expected answer, e.g. Smarties (or in my case pencils).

However, what the child doesn’t know is that prior to the experiment you have taken the expected contents out and replaced them with something unexpected! You then show the child the unexpected contents, this often gives them a good giggle. Then you close the container again and ask them what someone else, who hasn’t seen inside the container, would think was inside.

My 6-year old really enjoyed this task as he found it very funny. My 4-year old was a little more confused by it though (video can be found here). She thought that Nana would think there were sweeties in the pencil box! I did wonder if this might reflected the box that I had chosen as maybe she thought Nana would not be familiar with the box and therefore that it contained pencils Alternatively, maybe there is something about this task that she just found more difficult than the task about Sally and Anne?


Diverse Desire Task

Since the development of the false belief tasks it has become recognised that these tasks test just one aspect of Theory of Mind. If we are interested in children’s understanding of the minds of others, then we need more tasks as people’s minds are very complex. We need tasks that test children’s understanding of different types of thoughts, not just someone’s knowledge and beliefs.

One of these more recent tasks has been designed to test children’s understanding that the likes and desires of others may differ to their own. To test this, you will need a picture of two possible snacks (we used pictures of a cookie and a carrot) and a soft toy who can be the character in the story.
Now you are ready to engage in the following conversation with your child.

  • Here are two different snacks, a carrot, and a cookie (show them the pictures). Which would you like best?
  • Here is Farmer Tom (the name of the toy we used), and it is his snack time!
  • Farmer Tom really likes (opposite to what child said). He does not like (what the child says), he likes (opposite to what the child said).
  • So now it is snack time, Farmer Tom can choose what he would like to eat. Which snack will they choose, a cookie or a carrot?

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to choose the snack for the toy character that the character likes – rather than the one that they would choose. Both of my children found this quite easy, you can see them having a go here. I was not surprised by this as understanding of diverse desires has been found to be one of the first Theory of Mind skills to develop, usually before the understanding of false belief


Real – Apparent Emotion Task

As well has having beliefs and desires we have emotions too. Some more recent Theory of Mind tasks, such as this story about Sam have aimed to investigate children’s understanding of the emotions that another person might feel and show – and that these may not always be the same as people can try and hide their emotions.

To test this understanding of emotion you will need a couple of paper props: a silhouette, or outline of a boy, and three face emojis (happy, neutral and sad). Make sure that your child is confident about the feelings that each of three faces represent and introduce the silhouette of the boy explaining that it is ‘Sam’ the boy in the story that you are about to read.

Now you are ready to read the story:

This story is about Sam. I am going to ask you some questions about how Sam is feeling, how he is really feeling on the inside, and how he looks on his face. He might feel one way inside but look a different way on his face. I want you to tell me how he really feels inside AND then how he looks on his face, okay?

  • Sam’s friends were playing together and telling jokes.
  • One of the older children, Rosie, told a mean, unkind joke about Sam and everyone laughed.
  • Everyone thought it was very funny but Sam didn’t.
  • But he didn’t want the other children to see how he felt about the joke, so Sam tried to hide how he felt.
  • So, how do you think Sam felt on the inside when everyone else laughed at the joke?
  • AND how did Sam try to look on his face?

To pass this test children need to recognise that although Sam felt sad inside, he tried to disguise his feelings by looking neutral or happy. I was surprised at how easy both of my children found this task as understanding of emotion has generally been found to be one of the later Theory of Mind skills to develop. This led me to wonder whether maybe taking the ‘test’ in a familiar environment with a familiar adult who they are used to listening to made it easier for them to pass the test?


Finally, some reflections on these tests…

Although the theory of mind tasks are tests of social cognition they also require good language skills as children really have to listen and understand what you are saying otherwise they would be likely to give the wrong answers. I think, like the Piagetian tasks I wrote about last week, that when we are able to present these tasks in a child friendly way that makes sense to the child we may find that some abilities develop slightly sooner than the theorist originally thought. These reminds us how important the environment and context is for children, if they feel comfortable and relaxed they may be better able to show us their true cognitive abilities.

Let us know what you think!


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5 things to get involved in whilst studying with us!

There are many things that you can get involved in whilst studying a Psychology degree with us! Here are 5 ideas of what you can do outside of your academic workload.

5 things to get involved in whilst studying for your Psychology degree!

#1: We have lots of events and opportunities for you to get involved in throughout the year!
For example you could:

  • Write a blog piece on your experiences or an event you have supported.
  • Run a demonstration at one of our events such as ‘Psychology and Me’!
  • Present your research at one of the Psychology Research conferences.
PitP expert talk

#2: You can attend expert talks

These take place on campus as part of our visiting speaker series and as part of Psychology in the Pub! You can hear about research and different Psychology fields who are invited to talk about their interests.

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#3: Become a Psychology Advocate!

Learn more about the field of Psychology and develop your transferable skills by delivering workshops, tours and supporting events within the department!

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#4: Develop your practical research skills

Conduct your own studies, support academic researchers and participate in studies. These might use our amazing technical resources!
You can put your learning into practice on a placement year or one of your option modules.

#5: Join the Psychology society!

Socialise with students from across our Psychology degrees and become part of a wider Psychology community!


Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Are you expecting a child or have a child aged 3 years or younger? Participants needed for a new online study!

By Darel Cookson, PhD Student (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research)

I am currently recruiting participants to take part in an online questionnaire study, which is part of my Social Psychology PhD. I am using an experimental design, investigating people’s reactions to an excerpt from some online articles which discuss childhood vaccinations. We want to understand what specifically influences people’s opinions on childhood vaccinations.

In order to take part in this study participants must be:

  • Aged 18 or over
  • British and living in the UK
  • Have a child aged 3 years or younger OR be currently expecting a baby.

To take part, you can click on the link here: http://bit.ly/ChildhoodVaccQ

This study has research full ethical approval from Staffordshire University; all data is anonymous, and participants can stop completing the questionnaire at any point by selecting ‘exit’.

Thank you, and if you have any questions, please email: darel.cookson@research.staffs.ac.uk


The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire University. The Centre houses a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines.

For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

PhD Student Blog: Attending the PsyPAG 2019 Annual Conference

By Darel Cookson, PhD Student (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research)

The PsyPAG 34th Annual Conference took place from Tuesday 23rd – Friday 26th July 2019 at Sheffield Hallam University. This year, the conference theme was to promote the health and wellbeing of delegates while they had the opportunity to meet, network and share their research with peers. I was lucky enough to attend along with fellow PhD researcher Tanya Schrader where we shared our research on belief in conspiracy theories.

PsyPAG is the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group and is funded by the Research Board of the British Psychological Society. PsyPAG is run purely by postgraduates for the benefit of postgraduate psychology students at UK institutions. Each year PsyPAG organises an annual conference where, across three days, psychology postgraduate students meet, share their work via oral and poster presentations, provide feedback, attend workshops and keynotes, and build support systems and even collaborations! This was my second year attending PsyPAG and it was a fantastic conference where I could share the first few studies of my PhD, receive feedback from peers, and build friendships with fellow postgraduate students.

A highlight of the conference was the keynote presentations, thoughtfully selected by the organisation committee to align with the conference theme of promoting health and wellbeing. The first keynote was from Professor Sir Chris Husbands, who discussed academic careers in the 21st century. We were urged to think about what the big issues were that our research was interested in and to use this to maximise our impact. Cognitive Psychologist, Dr Dan Smith, told the story of their research, detailing a series of elegant experiments probing the relationship between the motor system and cognitive processes.

The second day of the conference began with a keynote from Professor Madelynne Arden, who discussed their impressive body of work exploring adherence to medication in Cystic Fibrosis, using a behaviour science approach to intervention research. Dr Emma Norris then shared her journey from PhD to postdoctoral researcher and discussed the differences moving from independent research in a PhD programme to working on a large multi-disciplinary project. The final keynote was from Dr Jennie Drabble, a Forensic Psychologist who also discussed life after PhD. Dr Drabble emphasised the importance of taking time for yourself outside of academia and motivated the room to help change the culture of academia from within.

A further highlight of PsyPAG 2019 was the workshop; ‘Bringing Reproduceable Science to the People – The Story of Change’ produced and delivered by Olly Robertson and Dr Jon Sutton. This workshop was focussed on how we can best communicate our research to wider audiences in an interesting and accurate way. The onus was put on researchers to take opportunities to communicate their work and we discussed how to do this with both accuracy and elegance. Then we had 5 minutes and no more than 10 sentences to summarise our PhD research and then share it with the group – quite a challenge! I took a lot away from this session and it was so helpful to receive advice from the editor of The Psychologist (albeit a bit daunting!).

Tanya presenting her PhD research

Tanya and I shared our research in the ‘Social Psychology’ symposium. Tanya kicked the session off with her fascinating work exploring the darker side of conspiracy theories. Tanya is interested in potential predictors and consequences of conspiracy belief, particularly around violence and crime. Using hierarchical regression analysis, Tanya has found that conspiracy beliefs play a unique role in predicting acceptance of violence. Tanya is clearly passionate about this subject and used several real-life examples of the potential violent consequences of conspiracy beliefs. I then presented the first two studies of my PhD, exploring the role of perceived social norms in motivating conspiracy beliefs. Currently, my research is showing that we over-estimate the extent to which other people endorse conspiracy theories and we are significantly influenced by the perceived beliefs others. My next job is to try to use this knowledge reduce belief in dangerous conspiracy theories – which is proving to be most difficult!

Me presenting my PhD research

There were several excellent presentations throughout the three days at PsyPAG and it is always exciting to see what your peers are studying. Madeleine Pownall, a first year PhD student from The University of Leeds explained a theory she is currently working on to ask; can positive self-objectification diffuse stereotype threat effects in women? Madeleine has amalgamated three theories in social psychology with sophistication and is now developing a body of research to test these ideas. It was inspiring to see such innovative ideas from your peers! Another stand out presentation was from Ed Noon from Sheffield Hallam University who is investigating how adolescents use social media, particularly Instagram and how this can influence social comparisons and thus identity development.

The organisers from Sheffield Hallam University, Suzy Hodgson, Martine Lamb and Nikki Dean Marshall, were incredible and did such a fantastic job this year, so thank you very much! I am very grateful to have attended PsyPAG 2019 and to have the opportunity to share my research.


Exterior Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Dr Daniel Jolley featured on BBC Radio Stoke discussing what makes a conspiracy theory…

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Lucas Yeomans Evening show discussing the psychology of conspiracy theories and how he got into researching why people believe in conspiracies.

You can listen to Dr Jolley’s interview via the below link:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio Stoke Lucas Yeomans Evening Show (29/7/2019) [from 17 mins 3 seconds in]


Exterior Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

“Conspiracy theories: Are they damaging democracy?” Dr Daniel Jolley featured on TRT World’s Roundtable

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on TRT World’s Roundtable television programme discussing the psychology and consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories as part of a discussion panel. Dr Jolley discussed some of his recent research into the potential negative effects of believing in conspiracy theories with other leading experts researching why individuals believe in conspiracies.

You can view the Roundtable programme featuring Dr Jolley via the below Youtube video:


Exterior Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Dr Daniel Jolley featured on BBC Radio 5 Live discussing why people believe in conspiracy theories

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sarah Brett show discussing the reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories, whether more conspiracy theories are being believed today compared to the past, and whether conspiracy theory beliefs are resistant to change.

You can listen to Dr Jolley’s interview via the below link:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio 5 Live Sarah Brett show – 9/7/2019 (from 36:20)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Dr Daniel Jolley featured on BBC Radio Stoke commenting on Conspiracy Theories & Yeti Footprints

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Stuart George Radio Show discussing conspiracy theories in relation to a recent story about the Indian Army posting a photo of ‘Yeti footprints’.

You can listen to Dr Jolley’s interview via the BBC Sounds website, see below:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio Stoke Stuart George Show (01/05/2019, from 1hr 22 min 20 seconds)

BBC News: ‘Yeti footprints’: Indian army mocked over claim

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

PhD Student Blog: My Journey to studying for a PhD

By Tanya Schrader, PhD Student in Psychology (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research).

As a first-year undergraduate, one of our assignments was to write a reflective essay with SMART goals. My first thought was “Argh!”. My second thought was “Why, why, why?”. I’m happy to report that it turned out well and I’ve come to appreciate reflection both in my academic and personal life. Reflective practices have not only benefitted my academic work but also reminds me to acknowledge my achievements, big and small, that have aided me in my endeavours. Reflecting on my achievements has proved a valuable method to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the experiences of undertaking a degree.

 

The last time I wrote on this blog was at the end of my BPS Research Assistantship in 2017. I had my final year ahead of me and had made the decision to continue to post-graduate study. I had no idea how I was going to overcome the logistical and financial challenges, but I was determined to find a way (Did I mention that my husband is also doing a degree at Staffs?). I reflected over the many challenges I’d overcome to get into university, and the achievements I’d made up to that point. This gave me the determination I needed to stay positive and focussed.

First and foremost, I knew I needed to put everything I had into my final year. I set out my academic goals (and yes, they were SMART), put my head down and went full steam ahead. It was intense, and I could not have done it without the support of my peers and the best academic staff in the world. My project supervisor, Dr Dan Jolley, showed unwavering faith in my abilities even when I was very much in doubt. My project, which investigated the relationship between rape myth acceptance and feminist conspiracy theories, produced a significant result and I knew that this research needed to be extended. I presented my findings at the Staffordshire University Psychology Student Conference, followed by the British Psychological Society’s Midlands conference. I received valuable feedback on both counts, which informed the direction of my postgraduate study.

I put forward a PhD proposal and it was accepted. Together with my supervisors, Dr Daniel Jolley and Dr Sarah Krähenbühl, I am currently in the early stages of my program of researching the darker outcomes of conspiracy theory beliefs. We are investigating the unjust treatment of people who belong to groups that are perceived to be involved in conspiracies. In particular, if this relates to increased online and offline aggression, the justification of violent acts, and if such group membership affects people’s experiences within the criminal justice system.

Again, I find myself at a point where I need to reflect upon my journey thus far to reassure myself that I have what it takes.

As 2018 gave way to 2019, while I was planning the upcoming year and feeling slightly anxious about the challenges ahead, I received news that I was to be published!  The study that was conducted as part of my BPS Assistantship project, culminated in a paper which I co-authored with Dr Daniel Jolley, Prof Karen Douglas and Dr Ana Leite.  The paper, titled Belief in conspiracy theories and intentions to engage in everyday crime, has just been accepted for publication by the British Journal of Social Psychology. What a splendid way to begin the new year. So now, whenever the inevitable doubts creep in, I have this achievement to remind myself that I have what it takes to be a PhD student.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages:

Dr Daniel Jolley talks to VICE about celebrity conspiracy theories and the psychology of conspiratorial thinking

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured in an interview with the online VICE news website discussing the reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories, especially in relation to celebrity news, and what effects conspiracy beliefs have on individuals.

Dr Jolley discusses some of the reasons why individuals may believe in conspiracies relating to famous names (e.g. Beyonce, Nick Cage, Avril Lavigne) and how such beliefs may have negative consequences, especially in relation to political and environmental issues, read more via:

VICE: why do our brains love celebrity conspiracy theories?


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages: