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A new model of the development of deception: Disentangling the role of false‐belief understanding in deceptive ability

Abstract “Deception” is defined predominantly as the intentional attempt to create false‐beliefs in others. However, the intentionality behind early acts of deception and its relation to false‐belief understanding remain unresolved. In this article, we offer a three‐stage theoretical model of the development of deception in human ontogeny. We posit that at any age, human deception is an intentional action, but its form changes according to the level of the deceiver's intentionality. As the primary function of deception is to influence the behaviour of others, we argue that first‐stage deceptions‐in‐action involves only in the analysis of behaviours and perceptual access, not beliefs. In our view, the ability to deceive and false‐belief understanding are eventually inter‐connected, but false‐belief understanding is not essential for the earliest form of deception. Based on empirical findings, which suggest that by observing the results of early deceptions children build their knowledge of mental states as causes of human actions, we claim that the second stage of deception is representational deception. Further, as the understanding of beliefs becomes more advanced, the effectiveness of children's deception increases, and new forms of reflective deception (the third stage) emerge. Future directions for research are outlined, and limitations of the current model are discussed.

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