Parents’ Mind-Mindedness in Infancy and Children’s Theory of Mind at Preschool Age

Shiwen Zhou


Parental mind-mindedness (MM) refers to the parent’s ability and willingness to perceive their child as a psychological agent and an individual with his or her internal mental states, such as thoughts, emotions, motivations, and desires. A growing body of research on parent-infant interactions has provided evidence that individual differences in parental MM have a host of significant implications for children’s future development, including positive associations with children's emerging Theory of Mind (ToM). The current study examined this association. We coded parental MM in 102 community mothers and fathers from their spontaneous comments to their 7-month-old infants in a naturalistic setting and assessed children’s ToM at 52 months using false-belief tasks. Higher levels of both parents' mind-minded comments were associated with children's better ToM. Furthermore, there was an interaction between child gender and fathers’ MM: Fathers' mind-minded comments were predictive of ToM development for their sons but not for their daughters. The study opens paths for future research on relations between parents’ MM and children's development of ToM and it highlights possible gender effects in parental influences on children’s emerging social cognition.