“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.
Developmental psychology commonly holds that both deception and lying (verbal deception) are intentional actions aimed at creating a false‐belief in another person’s mind (Chandler, Fritz, & Hala, 1989; Ding, Heyman, Fu, Zhu, & Lee, 2018). This standard definition assumes that deception is a behaviour aimed at inducing a false‐belief in the deceived. Deceptive actions are observed frequently in primates (Byrne & Whiten, 1990) and in children prior to their development of false‐belief understanding (Newton, Reddy, & Bull, 2000), and thus the standard definition has been questioned as excessively narrow (Reddy, 2007). Following ethological accounts (Reddy, 2007; Whiten & Byrne, 1988), we define “deception” as any intentional action aimed at causing a specific behaviour in another via making his or her view of the situation more similar to a situation in which this particular behaviour usually occurs. Based on the research reviewed, we propose three stages of the development of deception exist: deceptions‐in‐action, representational deceptions, and reflective deceptions. The main rationale for our model is based on Dennett’s (1983) intentional systems theory and Karmiloff‐Smith’s (1992, 1998, 2012) neuroconstuctivist theory of cognitive development.