Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Science (BS)
Theory of mind (ToM) is the cognitive ability to reason about the beliefs of others that might differ from our own and predict actions based on those beliefs. This ability is traditionally assessed with a false belief task that requires the participant to represent multiple beliefs at once. Children have been shown to fail this task until 4.5 years, suggesting a culmination of their theory of mind occurring around this age. Previous research has suggested that experience, illustrated by multiple training studies, plays a significant role in this eventual success on the false belief task. These training studies introduce exposure to a false belief scenario and feedback to improve participants’ performance on a false belief task, contributing to the broader study of the influence of language on ToM development. The current study employed a training paradigm to separate these elements to evaluate the specific role of discourse in the absence of exposure to a false belief scenario. Participants were 29 preschoolers (20 male, 9 female, Mean Age = 3 years, 7 months) randomly assigned to one of three training conditions. The False Belief condition resembled earlier training studies and exposed participants to both feedback and false belief scenarios. The True Belief Enhanced condition exposed the participants to only feedback. The Neutral True Belief condition served as a control and provided no exposure to either element. Participants in all conditions were scored on two false belief tasks after their training session. Analyses found no significant effect of condition (χ2 = 2.72, p = .256), but found a significant effect of the two test conditions combined compared to the control (χ2 = 3.97, p = .046). This suggests preliminary support for the importance of discourse in theory of mind development. Additional work is recommended to increase power of this analysis and investigate the mechanisms of discourse.
Collings, Alaina, "Training Theory of Mind: The Impact of Discourse and False Belief Experience" (2023). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 2064.
On-Campus Access Only