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Title: The development of theory of mind and pragmatics in adolescents
Author: Symeonidou, Irene
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 7608
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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Theory of Mind (ToM) or ‘mentalising’ is our human ability to attribute the beliefs, thoughts, desires, intentions and feelings to others, and predict or explain behaviour in terms of these mental states. In the last couple of decades research has shown that brain areas involved in ToM (the ‘Social Brain’), undergo changes not only during childhood, but also during adolescence. Numerous studies have provided evidence for structural and functional changes in the Social Brain during childhood and adolescence. Recent findings from behavioural studies suggest a protracted development of ToM through middle childhood and adolescence. However, what factors constrain performance during middle childhood and adolescence are yet to be determined. The current thesis investigates the development of ToM in adolescence and explores what cognitive processes might be developing in parallel to the brain changes that are occurring in the ToM network, through four online ToM tasks. Chapter 2 examines how children, adolescents and adults apply ToM in real time while performing a variant of the Director task, and the role of inhibitory control in that process. Chapter 3 uses a false-belief task to examine whether adolescents can reliably infer others’ (false) beliefs as spontaneously and early as adults. Chapter 4 investigates whether adolescents can use knowledge about a character’s basic preferences and higher order desires, even when they are in conflict, to make complex ToM inferences and predict that character’s subsequent behaviours as quickly as adults. Chapter 5 examines how adolescents’ brain process irony comprehension in real time in comparison to adults’ using an ERP paradigm. Additionally, the study explores whether individual differences in empathy are associated with irony processing. Overall, the findings show that ToM is further developing during adolescence and make a theoretical advance as to what specific cognitive processes are still maturing as these brain changes are occurring.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available