Article

Maternal Epistemological Perspectives and Variations in Mental State Talk

Department of Communication Sciences, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.
Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research (Impact Factor: 2.07). 09/2008; 52(1):61-80. DOI: 10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0161)
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT

This study examined how complexity of maternal epistemological beliefs predicted mothers' and children's talk about the mind.
Twenty-eight mothers of 5- to 10-year-olds completed a measure of receptive vocabulary, and mothers and children participated in a storytelling task specifically designed to elicit talk about the mind. Their use of mental state terms to encode pragmatic functions and mothers' epistemologies were assessed and compared.
Maternal mental state talk and amount of talk increased with epistemological complexity. With the number of utterances held constant, mothers with simple, dualistic perspectives of knowledge used mental states more often to direct interaction; mothers with more complex epistemologies used mental states more often to encourage child reflection. Mothers with the less complex perspective underperformed on the receptive vocabulary measure in comparison to others. Children's amount of talk and use of a variety of mental state terms also increased with maternal epistemological complexity. The amount of talk and mental state terms produced by mothers and children frequently persisted after the effects of maternal receptive vocabulary were removed.
Maternal epistemologies predict several qualities of mothers' and children's mental state talk that may contribute to children's developing theory of mind.

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    ABSTRACT: Research Findings: This study examined 34 Head Start teachers’ use of four categories of mental state talk (verbalizations of mental processes using emotion terms, cognition terms, desire terms, and perception terms) during naturally occurring classroom interactions. Transcriptions from classroom videos were coded for mental state talk category, sentence type in which the mental state term was used, and referent of the mental state term. Results indicated that teachers used varying amounts of mental state talk (perception terms were used most frequently and emotion terms least frequently) and that categories of mental state talk differed by sentence type and referent; emotion and cognition terms were used in statements more than questions, and, when using emotion terms, teachers were more likely to refer to their own emotions than children’s emotions. Differences in teachers’ mental state talk were associated with teachers’ years of experience and observed classroom quality as assessed by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System. Practice or Policy: Teachers’ mental state talk may be a mechanism through which teachers’ use of verbal language contributes to positive and sensitive teacher–child interactions. Further examination of mental state talk within teacher–child interactions has the potential to contribute to understanding aspects of effective teaching in early childhood classrooms.
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