Play and Theory of Mind:

Patricia Elizabeth Spencer

in The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Vol. 2

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780195390032
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Play and Theory of Mind:

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  • Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology


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Play and Theory of Mind (ToM) result from a combination of maturation and experience. Play behaviors have often been used to index cognitive development in young deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children, although relatively few reports are available on those under the age of 3 years. Available data indicate that the order of development of play behaviors in children with hearing loss parallels that of hearing children; however, delays occur at the symbolic level when language development and early communicative experiences are restricted. With the exception of a single report at 12 months, potentially explained by deaf mothers’ accommodation of age-expected visual attention limitations, hearing status itself has not been shown to affect play development. Like play, behaviors indicating attainment of ToM have been found to correlate with language levels and differences in early opportunities to participate in conversational interactions. Differences in the development of ToM are more readily explained by common effects from hearing loss on experience than from hearing status or language modality alone. Like play, ToM abilities reflect cognitive attainments in taking and representing multiple perspectives, integrating information across time and contexts, and creating as well as retrieving from memory symbolic representations of objects and events. Activities in which play behaviors and ToM problem solving occur, therefore, provide highly conducive contexts for the development of more advanced cognitive concepts and abilities. Intervention to assure “on time” attainment of these two abilities thus may be critical for children’s later abilities to acquire and synthesize information in typical learning environments.

Keywords: play; symbolic play; theory-of-mind; deaf; hard-of-hearing; cognition; infant; toddler

Article.  14689 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology

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