Social relationships and children’s understanding of mind: Attachment, internal states, and mind-mindedness

Elizabeth Meins

in Access to Language and Cognitive Development

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199592722
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731488 | DOI:
Social relationships and children’s understanding of mind: Attachment, internal states, and mind-mindedness

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This chapter discusses competing theories about the relation among caregivers' ‘mind-mindedness’ (i.e., caregivers' tendency to treat their infants as individuals with minds), quality of attachment, children's mental state or ‘internal-state’ language, and children's understanding of emotions and other minds at ages four and five. Evidence suggests that secure attachment is a significant predictor of young children's success on theory of mind (ToM) tasks — a result that has been interpreted in terms of a causal link between early social relationships and children's acquisition of concepts that are central for naive social cognition. However, there are several inconsistencies in the available evidence on the relationship between attachment and the use of ToM reasoning. The chapter considers different potential developmental pathways that might explain the observed relations between early maternal mind-mindedness and children's understanding of mind. It concludes by arguing in favour of a model that includes separate effects of two different aspects of the caregivers' internal-state language, namely comments that appear to be appropriate to the mental state of the child and comments that appear to be non-attuned to the child's mental states. While the former is a predictor of children's ability to express their ToM, the latter is unrelated to ToM performance and is in fact negatively associated with children's own use of internal-state language.

Keywords: caregivers; attachment; mental state; theory of mind; social cognition; child development; internal-state langauge

Chapter.  8520 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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