Title

Mental verb input and children's theory of mind: A training study

Date of Completion

January 2008

Keywords

Education, Music|Psychology, Developmental

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

The current study used a training methodology and was designed to examine the type of mental verb input that might promote children's theory of mind development. The mental verb input was presented in video format to 84 three-year-old children. All children in the training conditions heard 64 mental verb utterances across four visits in a two-week time period. The training conditions varied only in the way in which the mental verb utterances were presented to the child. Therefore, six training conditions were devised for this study: (1) statements used only with the first person subject, (2) questions used only with the first person subject, (3) statements used only with the other person subject (i.e., 2nd or 3rd person), (4) questions used only with the other person subject, (5) statements directed to the children (i.e., interactive) used with only the other person subject, and (6) questions directed to the children used only with the other person subject. In the two interactive conditions, the mental state utterances were directed toward the children instead of to the other characters in the video. A seventh condition, the control condition, did not hear any mental verb input and instead watched a typical children's video. The most robust finding was that the children hearing characters talk about others' mental states (e.g., "Freddy thinks this is a Christmas ball.") improved more in their theory of mind than children hearing characters talk about their own mental states (e.g., "I think this is a Christmas ball."). Of the children hearing the characters only talk about someone else's mental state, children overhearing the characters' conversation (i.e., the mental verb utterances were directed to the characters in the video) improved the most in theory of mind if the mental verb utterances were in the form of questions (e.g., "Does Freddy think this is a Christmas ball."), while the children in the interactive conditions (i.e., the characters addressed the children, not the other characters in the video) improved the most in theory of mind if the mental verb utterances were presented in the form of statements (e.g., "Hey kids, Freddy thinks this is a Christmas ball."). The current study corroborated and extended the findings of previous naturalistic studies by demonstrating via a training study that the referent and form of mental verb utterances play significant roles in children's development of a theory of mind. This is the first training study to separate the effects of referent and form of mental verb utterances and is therefore the first study to demonstrate the specific type of mental verb input that promotes children's theory of mind development. ^