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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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Language and the Development of Cognitive Flexibility: Implications for Theory of Mind

Language and the Development of Cognitive Flexibility: Implications for Theory of Mind

(p.144) 8 Language and the Development of Cognitive Flexibility: Implications for Theory of Mind
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Sophie Jacques

Philip David Zelazo

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the labeling function of language, in this case as an aid to cognitive flexibility. It reinterprets the relation between language and theory of mind in terms of language-related effects on cognitive flexibility. Central to its argument is the claim that most of the variance on theory-of-mind tasks can be attributed to the development of flexible perspective taking. It recasts the theory of mind as cognitive flexibility, arguing that, although it undoubtedly involves the acquisition of mental concepts, the use of these concepts necessarily involves cognitive flexibility—the ability to consider multiple representations of a single object or event. The chapter then reviews a number of studies demonstrating that labeling relevant stimuli promotes children's cognitive flexibility, and offers a number of suggestions for how labeling might similarly help theory-of-mind performance. On the other hand, this chapter argues that the arbitrary nature of labels is itself facilitative: because labels typically do not resemble their referents, they help create psychological distance between the symbol user and the external stimuli to which the symbols refer.

Keywords:   labeling, language, children, theory of mind, cognitive flexibility, mental concepts, external stimuli, psychological distance

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