Language, Cognitive Flexibility, and Explicit False Belief Understanding: Longitudinal Analysis in Typical Development and Specific Language Impairment


  • The authors wish to thank all of the children, families, and teachers for their generous support and participation in this study. We wish to particularly acknowledge the assistance received from the participants’ teachers (Fleur Aris, Susan Bamblett, Chris Blamey, Emily Bradshaw, Sarah Bye, Karen Colkin, Julie Cummings, Martine Damon, Pamela Dow, Lesley Edelman, Julie Excell, Linda Goss, Michelle Green, Terri Hale, Martija Jukic, Jill Mitchell, Suzie Morrison, Christine Onley, Judith Rangihaeata, Deb Scarterfield, Jenny Smith, Lucy Stewart, Christine Tarnowy, Carolyn Vuletic, Jenny Whiting, Michelle Willis, Megan Wilson, and Veni Zeid). This research was supported by a University of Western Australia Hackett postgraduate scholarship and a University of Western Australia completion scholarship to the first author. We thank the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Brad Farrant, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, P.O. Box 855, West Perth, Western Australia, 6872, Australia. Electronic mail may be sent to


The hypothesis that language plays a role in theory-of-mind (ToM) development is supported by a number of lines of evidence (e.g., H. Lohmann & M. Tomasello, 2003). The current study sought to further investigate the relations between maternal language input, memory for false sentential complements, cognitive flexibility, and the development of explicit false belief understanding in 91 English-speaking typically developing children (M age = 61.3 months) and 30 children with specific language impairment (M age = 63.0 months). Concurrent and longitudinal findings converge in supporting a model in which maternal language input predicts the child’s memory for false complements, which predicts cognitive flexibility, which in turn predicts explicit false belief understanding.