Relations between Temperament and False Belief Understanding in the Preschool Age
Emerging evidence suggests that Theory of Mind (ToM) is related to some aspects of children's temperament. Specifically, recent studies have shown that false belief understanding is positively related to shyness and withdrawn behavior and negatively associated with aggressive conduct. However, still little is known about which other aspects of temperament are related to children's ability to understand others' mental states. In the present study, we aimed to investigate relations between false belief understanding and temperament in preschool children. In the first phase of our research (T1), we administered a false belief task to 101 3- and 4- year-old Italian children. In the second phase (T2), 69 children belonging to the original sample were assessed again at 5 and 6 years of age, and their temperament was evaluated through parental ratings. Correlational analyses and independent-samples t-tests revealed significant positive relations of false belief understanding to inhibitory control and negative relations to motor activity/hyperactivity and anger/frustration (even though the latter was only marginal), whereas no relation was found to attention control. These results confirm and extend findings from previous studies. Unexpectedly, we did not find any significant association with shyness, despite evidence to the contrary from recent research. Overall, our findings show that false belief understanding relates differently to various dimensions of temperament in the preschool period and highlight the importance of conducting further investigation on the relation between ToM and temperament.
KeywordsTheory of mind False belief understanding Temperament Children Preschool age
We thank the coordinators and the teachers of the daycare centres where children were recruited and the parents of children who participated in the study. We thank Dr. Fabio Presaghi and Dr. Stefania Sette for their statistical advice, Dr. Lucy Roncato for the proofreading of the manuscript, and the reviewer for the insightful suggestions.
G.P.: collaborated with the design of the study, performed the experiments, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. E.A.: designed the study, assisted with the data analyses, and collaborated with the writing of the study. F.B.: designed the study, assisted with the data analyses, and collaborated with the writing of the study. M.P.: performed the experiments and collaborated with the writing of the study.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
We disclose any actual or potential conflict of interest and declare that our work has not been published previously, that it is not under consideration for publication elsewhere, that its publication is approved by all authors and that all procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Italian Ethics Committee of the Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology of Sapienza, University of Rome. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.
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