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What are the links between theory of mind and social relations? Review, reflections and new directions for studies of typical and atypical development

Hughes, C. and Leekam, Susan R. 2004. What are the links between theory of mind and social relations? Review, reflections and new directions for studies of typical and atypical development. Social Development 13 (4) , pp. 590-619. 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2004.00285.x

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Abstract

Twenty years after research on children's ‘theory of mind’ began, this field continues to be a leading influence in the study of developmental psychology and psychopathology. In this review we examine the contribution of research on children's theories of mind to our understanding of children's developing social relationships. Evidence shows that for both typical and atypical populations this relationship is neither uniform nor unidirectional. Theory-of-mind skills are multifaceted and the nature of the developmental relationship between different aspects is not yet known, and there is evidence that theory-of-mind skills both transform and are transformed by interpersonal and family relationships and by language communities. To understand the multifaceted and complex nature of development in this area, we need clearer definitions of the skills under investigation, as well as research designs that capture the transactional nature of the relationship between theory of mind and social relations. Addressing these issues should help to clarify (i) the processes by which children's developing understanding of others is influenced by the social environment, and (ii) issues concerning the specificity of theory-of-mind impairments in atypical populations and the processes by which these impairments develop. After more than 20 years of pre-eminence, investigations into children's developing theories of mind continue to lead current research in developmental psychology. A key reason for the intense academic interest in this topic is a general acceptance that theory-of-mind skills transform and/or are transformed by children's close relationships. Before reviewing the evidence for this proposal we first address two issues that become recurring themes in this paper, namely the problems of defining ‘theory of mind’ and of disentangling environmental and genetic influences on children's theory of mind. Next we consider how developments of theory of mind transform children's social relations, and here our main objective is to complement the recent excellent reviews (Flavell, 1999; Wellman & Lagattuta, 2000) and meta-analysis (Wellman, Cross & Watson, 2001) of age-related changes in children's theories of mind by focusing on the social implications of these normative developmental milestones in children's understanding of others. In the third section of this paper we consider aspects of social relations that may influence theory-of-mind development; here we review findings from the growing number of studies that investigate influences of culture, family and inter-individual relationships. Finally, we consider the relation between theory-of-mind performance and social competence in atypical groups; specifically children with autism and children with sensory impairments, before offering some general reflections on emerging issues within contemporary theory-of-mind research.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords: theory of mind; social relationships; autism; language skills; disability
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN: 0961-205X
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 04:15
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/35512

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