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Mothers' mental state input and theory of mind understanding in deaf and hearing children

Mary Pat Moeller, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Development of a “theory of mind” (ToM) allows children to interpret the behaviors of others with reference to their mental states. False belief understanding matures during the late preschool years in typical children and affords them a powerful tool for making sense of the world. Studies have shown that deaf children with hearing parents are delayed in their development of mental state understanding. The sources of this delay, however, are not well understood. It has been hypothesized that deaf children's restricted access to conversations about mental states contributes to delays. Presumably, this comes about as a result of the child's deafness and the limited signing skills of hearing parents. ^ Mothers' mental state talk has been linked to theory of mind development in hearing children, but has not been directly studied in hearing/deaf dyads. The present study was designed to explore the relationship between maternal mental state input and deaf children's development of a theory of mind. It was hypothesized that the frequency of a mother's mental state utterances would relate to her child's performance on theory of mind tasks and that parental sign fluency and child language abilities would be associated with the outcomes. Twenty-six hearing mother/deaf child dyads (children aged 4 years 3 months to 9 years 11 months) were compared to 26 hearing mother-hearing child dyads (children aged 4 years 3 months to 5 years 11 months). Dyads were videotaped in play interactions using tasks designed to elicit mental state talk. Measures of maternal sign vocabulary were collected, along with multiple measures of child language and standard theory of mind tasks. Results showed that the deaf children's language skills were significant predictors of their ToM performance and that the frequency of mothers' mental state talk was significantly related to ToM, after controlling for the effects of language. The frequency of maternal mental state input was influenced by level of maternal sign skill. Deaf children demonstrated delays in ToM performance, but their delays were less pronounced than those reported in previous studies. ^

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Speech Pathology|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Moeller, Mary Pat, "Mothers' mental state input and theory of mind understanding in deaf and hearing children" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3059958.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3059958

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