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Title: Effect of language background on metalinguistic awareness and theory of mind
Author: Pearson, Danielle K.
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2013
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Research has shown that theory of mind tends to develop in typically-developing children at about the age of 4 years. However, language appears to play a great role in this, particularly as deaf children, particularly those born to hearing parents, display extreme delays in theory of mind development, while bilinguals have been found to develop at a somewhat faster rate than monolinguals. Additionally, effects of culture on theory of mind development remain somewhat unclear, as there have been mixed results in past research. Theory of mind has also been correlated with metalinguistic ability and executive functioning skills, leading to multiple hypotheses regarding what drives theory of mind development. The aim of this doctoral thesis was to examine the relationships between theory of mind, metalinguistic awareness, and executive functioning, as well as to evaluate how language and culture play a role in these relationships. Four studies were conducted in an attempt to seek answers to six research questions surrounding this aim. Study1 evaluated theory of mind, metalinguistic awareness, and executive functioning among hearing nursery children in Central Scotland. Study 2 was aimed at evaluating these same skills among deaf children in the U.S. and U.K., as well as developing a scaling of theory of mind abilities among deaf children. Study 3 assessed these skills among deaf Ghanaian children, as well as evaluating theory of mind abilities among a group of hearing Ghanaian children. Finally, Study 4 compared monolingual and bilingual children on theory of mind, metalinguistic awareness, and executive functioning. Results show that there is a strong link between theory of mind and metalinguistic awareness among hearing children that is not explained by executive functioning skills. This relationship was not apparent among deaf children, who struggle more with theory of mind than metalinguistic awareness. The deaf children in Ghana were delayed compared to their Western peers; hearing Ghanaian children were delayed compared to their Western peers as well, but only slightly. Bilingual children and monolingual children performed similarly on false belief and set-shifting tasks; however, monolingual children outperformed bilinguals on metalinguistic awareness and inhibition tasks, possibly due to low verbal mental age among the monolinguals. Results of the four studies suggest that language does play a part in the relationship between theory of mind and metalinguistic awareness. Due to limited data, cultural effects remain unclear. It is proposed that deaf children’s struggle with theory of mind stems from their difficulty with abstract concepts.
Supervisor: Doherty, Martin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Theory of mind ; Sign language ; Metalinguistic awareness ; Children ; Executive functioning ; Deafness ; Language awareness