Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Impact of Verbal Capacity on Theory of Mind in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Impact of Verbal Capacity on Theory of Mind in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Article excerpt

EVEN WHEN they have good language skills, many children with hearing loss lag several years behind hearing children in the ability to grasp beliefs of others. The researchers sought to determine whether this lag results from difficulty with the verbal demands of tasks or from conceptual delays. The researchers related children's performance on a nonverbal theory of mind task to their scores on verbal aptitude tests. Twelve French children (average age about 10 years) with severe to profound hearing loss and 12 French hearing children (average about 7 years) were evaluated. The children with hearing loss showed persistent difficulty with theory of mind tasks, even a nonverbal task, presenting results similar to those of hearing 6-year-olds. Also, the children with hearing loss showed a correlation between language level (lexical and morphosyntactic) and understanding of false beliefs. No such correlation was found in the hearing children.

Interest in the psychology of mind dates back to the 1970s (Premack & Woodruff, 1978), both in social cognition in general and in theory of mind in particular. Social cognition is defined as the capacity to share, understand, anticipate, and monitor the behavior of others (Nadel, 2002). Theories of mind allow individuals to infer that human behaviors are the result of mental states such as desires, beliefs, will, intentions, and knowledge (Leslie, 1987). To assess the development of theories of mind in children, many researchers use what is known as the false belief task. Success on this task requires the subject to understand that people's behaviors cannot be explained in direct reference to reality, but rather on the basis of their representations of reality, whether true or false. Various tasks are used with children, including the deceptive box task (Perner, Leekam, & Wimmer, 1987), as well as tasks involving the unexpected transfer of objects from one location to another (Wimmer & Perner, 1983). Most children succeed at these tasks by the age of 4 or 5 years, although important differences between individuals exist. Many authors have attributed children's progress in theory of mind to major changes in their conceptualization of the mind, and, more specifically, to language development that occurs during the preschool years. (For a review, see Milligan, Astington, & Dack, 2007).

The Role of Language in Understanding False Beliefs

During the first few years of life, theory of mind and language develop in parallel and become intertwined in a complex way Accordingly, the prerequisites for theory of mind, such as joint attention, start to appear in infants when they begin producing their first words. Preschoolers understand that people have mental representations of the world, that these representations dictate behavior, and that they can sometimes be false. This understanding follows in particular from exposure to and participation in conversations. Since mental states are not observable, language provides the essential information for understanding words that refer to mental states.

Recent research has clearly established the role of language in theory of mind development (Astington & Jenkins, 1999; Milligan et al., 2007). First, the language level of preschool children predicts their subsequent level of understanding of false beliefs. Second, language training improves theory of mind performance among young children (Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2003). While these findings demonstrate that language predicts a child's future level of false belief understanding, the reverse is not true (Astington & Jenkins, 1999; J. de Villiers & Pyers, 2002). This finding suggests that language plays an important role in the conceptual changes that occur between ages 3 and 5 years. From this perspective, Pyers and Senghas (2009) have shown that language is a prerequisite to achieving an understanding of false beliefs. They compared two groups of adult deaf signers who had different levels of proficiency in a recently learned language (Nicaraguan Sign Language). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.