Date of Award

5-2009

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Peter J. LaFreniere

Second Committee Member

Cynthia Erdley

Third Committee Member

William Farthing

Abstract

The study comprised two experiments that engaged one hundred eighteen children, divided into three age groups (4-, 6-, & 8-year-olds) in competitive games with an adult designed to explore advances in children’s theory of mind (TOM) beyond false-belief mastery. The game paradigms were designed so that children with an understanding of RAI (the understanding that a social partner may be observing one’s behavior to gain insight into one’s intentions and that one can observe the partner’s behavior to gain similar insight – a proposed later development of TOM) would be more effective competitors than children who lacked such awareness. It was hypothesized that the skills required to successfully complete these games are not present in the average preschooler, but show significant development from ages 4 to 8. Success in Experiment 1 required children to inhibit information or provide misinformation. Such abilities are considered in deception studies to be indicative of a recursive awareness of intentionality. Age trends were evident for all dependent variables, including success at the task, strategic behaviors, and interview data. Four-year-olds were non-strategic and rarely successful, six-year-olds showed increased flexibility in their strategic behavior and were more successful, and eight-year-olds were significantly more flexible and subtle in their strategies, more successful at the task, and more likely to verbalize a recursive awareness of intention than the younger age groups. Success in Experiment 2 required children use the behavioral cues of their opponent to guide their choices during the game. Such ability indicates awareness of the informative potential of nonverbal signals to infer the hidden intentions of a partner. Age trends emerged in children’s ability to detect signals that reveal information about their partner’s intentions. Eight-year-olds demonstrated significantly more awareness of the informative value of behavioral cues given by social partners than 4- and 6-year-olds and were significantly more successful at the task. Findings from both experiments suggest that there are aspects of TOM that continue to develop across middle childhood.

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