Understanding Theory of Mind in Children Who Are Deaf



Research on theory of mind began in the context of determining whether chimpanzees are aware that individuals experience cognitive and emotional states. More recently, this research has involved various groups of children and various tasks, including the false belief task. Based almost exclusively on that paradigm, investigators have concluded that although “normal” hearing children develop theory of mind by age 5, children who are autistic or deaf do not do so until much later, perhaps not until their teenage years. The present study explored theory of mind by examining stories told by children who are deaf and hearing (age 9–15 years) for statements ascribing behaviour-relevant states of mind to themselves and others. Both groups produced such attributions, although there were reliable differences between them. Results are discussed in terms of the cognitive abilities assumed to underlie false belief and narrative paradigms and the implications of attributing theory of mind solely on the basis of performance on the false belief task.