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Development of Theory of Mind.

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Language definitely plays a role in children's development of a theory of mind. The question is, just how much of a role does it play. In recent years, there has been much research done on "theory of mind" in autistic, deaf, and normal hearing children. Investigating the development of theory of mind in deaf children can reveal whether language plays a major role in its acquisition. Theory of Mind "Theory of mind" refers to the ability to represent, conceptualize, and reason about mental states (Malle, 2001). Basically, it is the understanding that other people have knowledge and beliefs that are different from one's own and that those beliefs can be either true or false. Malle states, "In its fully mature stage, theory of mind is a domain-specific conceptual framework that treats certain perceptual input as an agent, an intention action, a belief, and so forth". Underlying all conscious and unconscious understanding of human behavior, theory of mind resembles a system of concepts with which people grasp, or come to terms with, social reality. Of course, humans are not born with a fully mature theory of mind. As children begin to develop this understanding, that individuals other than themselves possess mental states, they are then said to develop a theory of mind. This development usually occurs around the age of four, and as each child's theory of mind matures, they will be able to determine other's beliefs, desires, perspectives, and intentions, and perhaps even predict their behavior (Lundy, 1999). ...read more.


The distinguishable difference between these two groups is language. In most cases, hearing parents with deaf children do not know sign language. They may create "home signs", which are signs for objects or actions around the home. For instance, parents may create a sign for "I'm hungry". Using home signs can be an easy way for families to communicate, but children are not granted access to meaningful and explorative conversations with these home signs. The problem with this is that the interaction between the parents and children does not include communication about mental states. Their limited knowledge, if any, of signed language, does not include signs about mental states. So, generally, deaf children of hearing parents receive little or no explanations of feelings, attitudes, or reasoning behind actions. It is important to understand that the reason for this is not because of the lack of complexity of signed languages. American Sign Language, or ASL, is very capable of describing mental states, just as capable as any spoken language. It is the fact that these children do not have any language. They cannot hear their parent's spoken language, and their hearing parents are unable to teach them ASL or another form of signed language. The cases of deaf children born to deaf parents are very different. ...read more.


It does, however, present a problem with deaf children born to hearing parents. In fact, even a ten-year old deaf child born to deaf parents often fails to give the right answer (Peterson & Siegal, 1995). Social consequences of delayed development Due to their delayed development of theory of mind, deaf children may have "profound and extended problems in understanding people, social events, interpersonal relationships, literacy competence, and vocabulary" (Lundy, 1999). These developmental encounters are far from optimal and affect their everyday lives. Deaf children may feel less accepted by their hearing peers. They may struggle to comprehend the "social rules of friendship", they easily and quickly "attribute hostile intentions to others", and while they can be persistent in social settings, they are "less competent in expressing their emotions in social conflicts. Each of these factors might contribute to the tendency of some authors to consider a relatively large percentage of deaf children as stubborn and hard to handle. However, an underlying common factor might be their frequently noted impaired development of theory of mind, which refers to an understanding that people do not react to situations as such, but rather to their desires and their beliefs about that situations" (Rieffe & Terwogt, 2004). Conclusion After exploring the development of deaf children, with both hearing parents and deaf parents, it appears that language plays a major role in a child's development of a mature theory of mind. It is safe to say that without language, children's development of this theory is delayed. ...read more.

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