Thursday, 22 November 2018

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Theory of Mind: Understanding Others in a Social World

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Learn what Theory of Mind is, and why it matters for overall development

 

What is Theory of Mind?

 

The core concepts involved in Theory of Mind are beliefs, desires, and intentions, which are used to understand why someone acts in a certain way or to predict how someone will act (Kloo et al., 2010).  Overall, Theory of Mind involves understanding another person's knowledge, beliefs, emotions, and intentions and using that understanding to navigate social situations.  A commonly used task to measure Theory of Mind is a false-belief task, such as this:

 

1. Show the child a Band-Aid box and ask the child what he/she thinks is inside the box.  He or she will likely respond “Band-Aids.”

2. Open the box and show him/her that there is a toy pig inside, while saying “Let’s see....it’s really a pig inside!”, then close the box.

3. Now, as you are bringing a toy boy who has been hidden up until now into view, the adults says “Peter has never ever seen inside this Band-Aid box. Now, here  comes Peter. So, what does Peter think is in the box?  Band-Aids or a pig?”   (Wellman & Liu, 2004)

 

This task measures the child’s understanding that someone may hold a belief about an event or object that does not match what the child knows to be true in reality.  Children who have developed Theory of Mind will understand that Peter holds a different understanding than them because he did not see in the box. They will respond that Peter thinks Band-Aids are in the box. Those who have yet to develop theory of mind might respond that Peter thinks there are pigs in the box, mistakenly assuming Peter holds the same belief as they do. 

 

When do children develop Theory of Mind?

 

Around age 4, children improve on tasks of theory of mind and are able to understand that someone may be acting based on a false belief about an object or event (Kloo et al., 2010).  Anecdotally in my own work with preschoolers, 3-year-olds tend to understand that Peter didn’t see inside the box, but still respond that Peter thinks a pig is in the box.  It is from older preschoolers-the 4- and 5-year olds-that I most frequently received the response that Peter thinks Band-Aids are in the box, suggesting that these older preschoolers had some level of false-belief understanding.

 Written By Brittany N Thompson

 Read Full Article Here

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