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Stepping Stones to Others’ Minds: Maternal Talk Relates to Child Mental State Language and Emotion Understanding at 15, 24, and 33 Months


  • The research was conducted during tenure of a Health Research Council of New Zealand, Pacific Health Research Postgraduate Award to Mele Taumoepeau.

    We would like to extend special thanks to the children and parents who generously gave us their time and to the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful critiques of an earlier version of this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Mele Taumoepeau, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand, 9054. Electronic mail may be sent to


This continuation of a previous study (Taumoepeau & Ruffman, 2006) examined the longitudinal relation between maternal mental state talk to 15- and 24-month-olds and their later mental state language and emotion understanding (N= 74). The previous study found that maternal talk about the child’s desires to 15-month-old children uniquely predicted children’s mental state language and emotion task performance at 24 months. In the present study, at 24 months of age, mothers’ reference to others’ thoughts and knowledge was the most consistent predictor of children’s later mental state language at 33 months. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development provides a framework within which maternal talk, first, about the child’s desires and then about others’ thoughts and knowledge scaffolds children’s social understanding.