Silent Films and Strange Stories: Theory of Mind, Gender, and Social Experiences in Middle Childhood


  • We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Suzanne Lloyd and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. for granting us permission to use clips from Safety Last (1923) and thank Bonnie Marshall for all her assistance in processing our requests. We would also like to thank Emma Burbridge and Adelle Pushparatnam for their assistance with data collection and pilot testing. The first author was funded by a Graduate Research Scholarship from St John's College, Cambridge.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rory T. Devine, Centre for Family Research, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF, United Kingdom. Electronic mail may be sent to


In this study of two hundred and thirty 8- to 13-year-olds, a new “Silent Films” task is introduced, designed to address the dearth of research on theory of mind in older children by providing a film-based analogue of F. G. E. Happé's (1994) Strange Stories task. Confirmatory factor analysis showed that all items from both tasks loaded onto a single theory-of-mind latent factor. With effects of verbal ability and family affluence controlled, theory-of-mind latent factor scores increased significantly with age, indicating that mentalizing skills continue to develop through middle childhood. Girls outperformed boys on the theory-of-mind latent factor, and the correlates of individual differences in theory of mind were gender specific: Low scores were related to loneliness in girls and to peer rejection in boys.