Individual differences in 4-year-olds’ theory of mind
MetadataShow full item record
The present study attempted to extend the literature by examining the contribution of pragmatic functions of collaborative mother-child communication to individual differences in children’s theory of mind in the physical and affective domains. The first goal was to examine the use of collaborative communication acts by mother and child individually at age 2½ and their associations with children’s false belief understanding at age 4. Focusing on mother and child as a unit, the second goal was to examine dyadic collaborative communication (where sequenced verbal and nonverbal actions by mother and child are logically or thematically connected) and its association with children’s theory of mind development. Participants were 79 children (42 boys) and their mothers. They participated in this study as part of a larger longitudinal study. The data collection took place first when the children were 30 months and again 4 years of age (ages 47 to 57 months). At 30 months, toddlers and their mothers engaged in pretense play in the contexts of teaching and doll play. At age 4, children were tested individually for affective and physical false belief understanding. Maternal education and child language skills (indexed by mean length of utterances) served as the covariates in all analyses. At age 4, children performed better at the physical than affective false belief tasks. At the individual level, although mothers used more frequent overall and specific collaborative communication acts than their toddlers during interaction, the frequency of toddlers’ overall collaborative communication acts observed at age 2½ predicted children’s physical, but not affective, false belief understanding at age 4. Moreover, both mothers’ and toddlers’ frequent use of collaborative communication acts of confirmation and support and cognitive terms embedded in collaborative communication acts predicted children’s greater physical, but not affective, false belief scores. Finally, the contribution of toddlers’ collaborative communication acts to their affective and physical false belief understanding was independent of that of their mothers. At the dyadic level, whereas the occurrence of emotion-related topics within mother-toddler collaborative communication episodes predicted children’s affective false belief understanding, the occurrence of contrastive perspectives as well as simple and advanced collaborative strategies used by the dyads predicted children’s physical false belief understanding. Furthermore, based on domain specific measures, the contribution of dyadic measures of collaborative communication to children’s affective false belief understanding was independent of that of individual measures. The present findings added new information to the literature highlighting the developmental associations between the pragmatic functions of mother-child collaborative communication and children’s theory of mind development. Findings lend support to the idea that the pragmatic aspect of language is related to young children’s theory of mind development in both physical and affective domains. Limitations of the present study, suggestions for future research, and implications for applied practice are discussed.