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J Exp Child Psychol. 2016 Sep;149:146-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.11.008. Epub 2016 Jan 8.

Deaf and hearing children's development of theory of mind, peer popularity, and leadership during middle childhood.

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School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia. Electronic address:
School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia.
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


This study had two primary aims. First, we compared deaf and hearing children during middle and late childhood on (a) cognitive understanding of basic and advanced theory of mind (ToM) and (b) social dimensions of peer group relations, including popularity, isolation, leadership, and the disposition to interact positively with peers. Second, using correlational analyses, we examined ToM's connections with these social variables to see whether and how ToM impacts children's social lives. A total of 57 children (36 deaf children of hearing parents and 21 hearing children) 6 to 14years of age completed a 6-step developmental ToM Scale, and their teachers reported on the social variables. Hearing children outperformed deaf children on ToM and all teacher-rated variables. For deaf children, popularity correlated positively, and social isolation correlated negatively, with ToM even after controlling for age, gender, and language ability. For hearing children, the only ToM link was a weak correlation with leadership. Possible reasons for the differences between deaf and hearing groups are discussed, together with the likelihood of bidirectional causal links and implications for deaf children's social development in school.


Atypical development; Leadership; Middle childhood; Peers; Popularity; Theory of mind

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