Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Psychology)
School of Arts and Humanities
Dr Rodrigo Becerra
Associate Professor Justine Dandy
Dr Guillermo Campitelli
Theory of Mind (ToM) is defined as the ability to understand our own and otherpeople’s mental representations, characterised by individual perspectives and motives,with potential for directing human behaviour (Kuntoro, Saraswati, Peterson & Slaughter,2013). Over the past 30 years this concept has captured the attention of cognitive anddevelopmental psychologists and it has been established that typically developed childrenfrom individualistic, mainly from Anglo (English-speaking) countries are most likely toacquire this ability at the age of four.
In the past decade, a growing interest in differences between children fromindividualistic and collestivistic cultural orientations led researchers to question the extentto which ToM is influenced by culture. Many cross-cultural studies that examined theToM performance have mainly focused on reporting on children from individualisticdominant cultures (mostly from English speaking countries) and countries frompredominantly collectivistic dominant cultures, and have found that children from theformer are more likely to develop advanced and earlier ToM, fuelling deeperinvestigation into sociocultural mechanisms influencing ToM performance incollectivistic children.
In the present study, a narrative literature review was conducted to identify theevidence for differences and similarities in ToM performance of children from differentcultures; the potential sociocultural factors influencing ToM; and gaps in the currentliterature that will benefit from future research. The review comprised 131 studies andrevealed two main findings. Firstly, little is known about the mechanisms underlyingcultural variations in ToM. Secondly, parenting might be an important culturaltransmission mechanism that has only been partially investigated in past cross-culturalToM research.
These gaps in the literature sparked my interest in advancing our understanding ofthe sociocultural influences on ToM performance, and ultimately led to this investigation.The main aim of my study was to explore the impact of sociocultural factors on ToMperformance in children from Australia and Colombia. To address the main aim of thisresearch, I explored the influence of sociocultural factors (i.e., parent-child relationshipsand child self-concept dimensions) in ToM in a sample of four- to six-year-oldColombian (N = 70) and Anglo-Australian children (N = 87).
My results revealed that culture influences ToM performance. Mediation analysesconfirmed that children’s tendency towards following rules and parents’ participation inthe child’s everyday activities and knowledge about their child are potential influencingmechanisms that can explain ToM variability, although this was confined to the six-yearoldsonly. Moreover, important cultural differences and similarities in ToM performanceemerged from my findings. Similarly to that reported in previous studies, Anglo-Australian children presented more advanced ToM abilities than Colombian children andachieved significantly higher total scores on the ToM scale, as well as above-chancelevels on higher-order ToM tasks. However, a novel finding was that the order in theGuttman scalogram for ToM progression was similar between the cultural groups. Thelatter finding demonstrates there is still more to discover in the field of ToM to shed lighton new directions of ToM development in children across cultures.
To sum up, this investigation contributed to the growing evidence of the influenceof collectivistic and individualistic orientations in parenting involvement styles andchildren’s norm awareness as potential cultural transmission mechanisms in ToM.Therefore, future investigations might be interested in broadening their scope ofinvestigation to socialization agents like parents and teachers and their influence inchildren’s ToM to consolidate our knowledge about the cultural transmission mechanismsin ToM. This, will to not only advance the field of ToM, but also enrich research in other disciplines, such as education.
Linares Pava, L. (2019). The role of culture in Theory of Mind. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2173