Parental and Peer Factors in Children’s Theory of Mind Development

Author: Aislinn Foutz
Major: Psychology
Approved: Spring 2018
Status: Completed

Theory of mind (ToM), or the ability to represent the mental state of others, is a social-cognitive

skill related to individual differences in social experiences and relationships. For instance, some studies have found that children with siblings tend to perform better on tasks that measure ToM, somewhat driven by parental influences like more opportunities for discussion about mental states (Perner, Ruffman, & Leekam, 1994). Beyond sibling and family structure, we can also consider ToM through the broader lens of adaptive and healthy social-emotional connection with parents. In this study, we examined whether and how parental reports (N = 207) of children’s ToM at different ages (during and beyond early childhood) are related to social-emotional experiences with parents, and social difficulties more broadly. Specifically, we examined measures of parental willingness to serve as an attachment figure, closeness and conflict with children, and children’s social strengths and difficulties. Further, we utilized a qualitative measure of parental mind-mindedness by examining the frequency of parents’ mentalistic comments in descriptions of their children using an adaptation of a maternal interview (Meins, Fernyhough, Russell, & Clark-Carter, 1998). Finally, we explored whether specific subtypes of the ToM assessment used are differently related to parental socialization and social difficulties. We found that ToM was associated with a number of parental and social constructs (including mind-midnedness), and that associations did differ based on type of ToM.