A two-lab direct replication attempt of Southgate, Senju and Csibra (2007)
The study by Southgate et al. (2007 Psychol. Sci.18, 587–592. (doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01944.x)) has been widely cited as evidence for false-belief attribution in young children. Recent replication attempts of this paradigm have yielded mixed results: several studies did not replicate the original findings, raising doubts about the suitability of the paradigm to assess non-verbal action prediction and Theory of Mind. In a preregistered collaborative study including two of the original authors, we tested one hundred and sixty 24- to 26-month-olds across two locations using the original stimuli, procedure and analyses as closely as possible. We found no evidence for action anticipation: only roughly half of the infants looked to the location of an agent's impending action when action prediction did not require taking into account the agent's beliefs and a similar number when the agent held a false-belief. These results and other non-replications suggest that this paradigm does not reliably elicit action prediction and thus cannot assess false-belief understanding in 2-year-olds. While the present results do not support any claim regarding the presence or absence of Theory of Mind in infants, we conclude that an important piece of evidence that has to date supported arguments for the existence of this competence can no longer serve that function.