From fancy to reason: Scaling deaf and hearing children's understanding of theory of mind and pretence


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Candida C. Peterson, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia 4072 (e-mail:


We examined deaf and hearing children's progression of steps in theory of mind (ToM) development including their understanding of social pretending. Ninety-three children (33 deaf; 60 hearing) aged 3–13 years were tested on a set of six closely matched ToM tasks. Results showed that deaf children were delayed substantially behind hearing children in understanding pretending, false belief (FB) and other ToM concepts, in line with their delayed uptake of social pretend (SP) play. By using a scaling methodology, we confirmed previous evidence of a consistent five-step developmental progression for both groups. Moreover, by including social pretence understanding, both deaf and hearing children's ToM sequences were shown to extend reliably to six sequential developmental steps. Finally and focally, even though both groups' sequences were six steps long, the placement of pretence relative to other ToM milestones varied with hearing status. Deaf children understood social pretending at an earlier step in the ToM sequence than hearing children, albeit at a later chronological age. Theoretically, the findings are relevant to questions about how universal developmental progressions come together along with culturally distinctive inputs and biological factors (such as hearing loss) to set the pace for ToM development.