The impact of verbal capacity on theory of mind in deaf and hard of hearing children.

Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Philosophy, University of Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France.
American annals of the deaf (Impact Factor: 0.88). 01/2012; 157(1):66-77. DOI: 10.1353/aad.2012.1610
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Even when they have good language skills, many children with hearing loss lag several years behind hearing children in the ability to grasp beliefs of others. The researchers sought to determine whether this lag results from difficulty with the verbal demands of tasks or from conceptual delays. The researchers related children's performance on a nonverbal theory of mind task to their scores on verbal aptitude tests. Twelve French children (average age about 10 years) with severe to profound hearing loss and 12 French hearing children (average about 7 years) were evaluated. The children with hearing loss showed persistent difficulty with theory of mind tasks, even a nonverbal task, presenting results similar to those of hearing 6-year-olds. Also, the children with hearing loss showed a correlation between language level (lexical and morphosyntactic) and understanding of false beliefs. No such correlation was found in the hearing children.

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    ABSTRACT: Our aim in this study was to investigate whether previous findings pointing to a delay in deaf children's theory of mind development are replicated when linguistic demands placed on the deaf child are minimized in a nonverbal version of standard false-belief tasks. Twenty-four prelingually deaf, orally trained children born of hearing parents were tested with both a verbal and a nonverbal version of a false-belief task. Neither the younger (range: 4 years 7 months-6 years 5 months) nor the older (range: 6 years 9 months-11 years 11 months) children of the final sample of 21 children performed above chance in the verbal task. The nonverbal task significantly facilitated performance in children of all ages. Despite this facilitation, we observed a developmental delay: only the older group performed significantly above chance in the nonverbal false-belief task, even though the younger children were at the average age when hearing children normally pass standard false-belief tests. We discuss these findings in light of the hypothesis that language development and conversational competence are crucial to the acquisition of a theory of mind.
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May 17, 2014