Two mentalizing capacities and the understanding of two types of lie telling in children

Yik Kwan HSU, Him CHEUNG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined the interrelationships among second-order belief, interpretive theory of mind, inhibitory control, and the understanding of strategic versus white lies in 54 children approximately 5 years 7 months old. Results showed that second-order belief was associated with strategic-lie understanding, whereas interpretive theory of mind predicted white-lie understanding. The current findings suggest that different aspects of mentalizing are involved in understanding strategic versus white lies. Strategic lies are about manipulating another mind's information content in relation to reality, and therefore to understand them, the child needs to be able to think about the mind as a representational agent holding either correct or incorrect information. This capacity is captured by traditional false-belief tasks. On the other hand, white lies are about hiding one's true feeling or opinion about reality out of a prosocial motive and are less subject to verification against external information. Hence, to understand white lies, the child needs to be able to see the mind as an interpretive agent and allow different minds to interpret even the same information differently. Copyright © 2012 American Psychological Association.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1650-1659
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013


Theory of Mind
information content


Hsu, Y. K., & Cheung, H. (2013). Two mentalizing capacities and the understanding of two types of lie telling in children. Developmental Psychology, 49(9), 1650-1659. doi: 10.1037/a0031128


  • Theory of mind
  • White lies
  • False belief
  • Interpretive theory of mind
  • Lies