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Theory of mind development: quality of sibling relationships and executive function

Downie, Melissa (2012) Theory of mind development: quality of sibling relationships and executive function. Roehampton University.


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Previous research by McAlister and Peterson (2006) found the presence of child siblings aided theory of mind (TOM) development and executive function (EF) skills. They further found strong correlations between children’s TOM and EF skills, controlling for language ability. The aim of the study was to replicate their findings. The study also aimed to examine whether there was a relationship between quality of sibling relationships and TOM. The final aim of this study was to examine the independent contributions of EF and language to TOM. Across two sessions, 21 children aged 3 to 5 years of age were given two TOM tasks, two EF tasks and a language ability test. Mothers completed questionnaires rating sibling relationship quality. Results revealed no sibling benefit to TOM. As expected, strong positive partial correlations were found between TOM and EF scores, controlling for language ability; this partial correlation was no longer significant when additionally controlling for age, though this was perhaps due to the small sample as the magnitude of the coefficient value was comparable. Sibling relationship quality did not predict TOM. Number of siblings did account for unique variance in EF scores over an above age and language, but this effect failed to reach significance. These findings suggest that child siblings in this sample do not benefit children’s TOM development, however number of siblings may be of extra benefit to children’s cognitive development.

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