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Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind$
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Janet Wilde Astington and Jodie A. Baird

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195159912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.001.0001

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Conversation, Pretense, and Theory of Mind

Conversation, Pretense, and Theory of Mind

(p.70) 4 Conversation, Pretense, and Theory of Mind
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Paul L Harris

Oxford University Press

This chapter emphasizes the importance of communicative exchanges in fostering children's understanding of mind. It explores ways in which children's participation in communicative exchanges mediates the development of a theory of mind. Various aspects of the mother's input are likely to co-vary, including the frequency of use of mental terms, the frequency of use of sentential complements, and the pragmatic intent to introduce varying points of view into the conversation. It is the mother's pragmatic intent that is the effective source of variation in promoting theory-of-mind development. In support of this suggestion, the chapter cites two training studies, both of which indicate that conversation that emphasizes different points of view on one and the same object or event, without using mental terms or sentential complements, is sufficient to generate an improvement in children's performance on theory-of-mind tasks. The chapter also discusses the significance of pretend play in theory-of-mind development—in particular, the finding that role-taking abilities are related to children's performance on theory-of-mind tasks.

Keywords:   communicative exchanges, children, theory of mind, mother, mental terms, conversation, sentential complements, pretend play, theory-of-mind tasks, role-taking

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