Mental rotation in false belief understanding

Jiushu XIE, Him CHEUNG, Manqiong SHEN, Ruiming WANG

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14 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines the spontaneous use of embodied egocentric transformation (EET) in understanding false beliefs in the minds of others. EET involves the participants mentally transforming or rotating themselves into the orientation of an agent when trying to adopt his or her visuospatial perspective. We argue that psychological perspective taking such as false belief reasoning may also involve EET because of what has been widely reported in the embodied cognition literature, showing that our processing of abstract, propositional information is often grounded in concrete bodily sensations which are not apparently linked to higher cognition. In Experiment 1, an agent placed a ball into one of two boxes and left. The ball then rolled out and moved either into the other box (new box) or back into the original one (old box). The participants were to decide from which box they themselves or the agent would try to recover the ball. Results showed that false belief performance was affected by increased orientation disparity between the participants and the agent, suggesting involvement of embodied transformation. In Experiment 2, false belief was similarly induced and the participants were to decide if the agent would try to recover the ball in one specific box. Orientation disparity was again found to affect false belief performance. The present results extend previous findings on EET in visuospatial perspective taking and suggest that false belief reasoning, which is a kind of psychological perspective taking, can also involve embodied rotation, consistent with the embodied cognition view. Copyright © 2018 Cognitive Science Society, Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1179-1206
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number4
Early online date17 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


Xie, J., Cheung, H., Shen, M., & Wang, R. (2018). Mental rotation in false belief understanding. Cognitive Science, 42(4), 1179-1206. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12594


  • Theory of mind
  • Mentalizing
  • False belief
  • Embodied simulation
  • Embodied egoce ntrictransformation
  • Mental rotation


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