Second-order false beliefs and linguistic recursion in autism spectrum disorder

Irina Polyanskaya, Inge-Marie Eigsti*, Torben Braüner, Patrick Rowan Blackburn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This study investigates the role of recursive language and working memory (WM) in second-order false belief skills in Danish-speaking children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 62; 8 females) and typical development (n = 41; 15 females), ages 6–16. Second-order false belief skills correlated with receptive grammar, vocabulary, and age; sentential complement production predicted second-order false beliefs, controlling for age, receptive grammar and WM. Regressions showed that second-order false belief was associated with age across groups, but with sentential complements in the ASD group only. Second-order false belief skills improved in children who received training in either recursive phrases (d = 0.21) or WM (d = 0.74), compared to an active control group. Results suggest that false belief skills are entwined with both linguistic and executive functions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)3991-4006
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • Compositional semantics
  • Second-order false belief
  • Sentential complementation
  • Theory of mind
  • Verbal mediation

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