Language and the Development of Cognitive Flexibility: Implications for Theory of Mind

Sophie Jacques and Philip David Zelazo

in Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195159912
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847150 | DOI:
Language and the Development of Cognitive Flexibility: Implications for Theory of Mind

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This chapter examines the labeling function of language, in this case as an aid to cognitive flexibility. It reinterprets the relation between language and theory of mind in terms of language-related effects on cognitive flexibility. Central to its argument is the claim that most of the variance on theory-of-mind tasks can be attributed to the development of flexible perspective taking. It recasts the theory of mind as cognitive flexibility, arguing that, although it undoubtedly involves the acquisition of mental concepts, the use of these concepts necessarily involves cognitive flexibility—the ability to consider multiple representations of a single object or event. The chapter then reviews a number of studies demonstrating that labeling relevant stimuli promotes children's cognitive flexibility, and offers a number of suggestions for how labeling might similarly help theory-of-mind performance. On the other hand, this chapter argues that the arbitrary nature of labels is itself facilitative: because labels typically do not resemble their referents, they help create psychological distance between the symbol user and the external stimuli to which the symbols refer.

Keywords: labeling; language; children; theory of mind; cognitive flexibility; mental concepts; external stimuli; psychological distance

Chapter.  8608 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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