Detailed investigation of the relation between mothers’ mental state language and children's theory of mind abilities
This study investigated the relation between maternal mental state language (MSL) in a storytelling context and preschoolers’ Theory of Mind (ToM) abilities. Seventy-four Turkish-speaking mothers’ mental state discourse was examined with a comprehensive coding of mental content (i.e., perception, physiological, desire, motivation, emotion, and cognition) at both lexical and morphological levels by marking the referents of each mental use (i.e., child-mother vs. story character). In addition, to distinguish the uses of perception terms as attention getters or genuine mental state references, a coding for perception words in terms of function was included. The results revealed that only certain functions of mothers’ perception MSL was related to children’s ToM performance. In particular, mothers’ use of perception MSL to give the literal meaning of the terms predicted children’s ToM performance concurrently when children’s cognitive abilities and age was controlled for. Results were discussed from a socio-cultural perspective to emphasize the importance of coding the pragmatic aspects of maternal MSL for a better understanding of ToM development in relation to language.