British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 20 Issue 4 (November 2002), Pages 465-622

Theory of mind and peer acceptance in preschool children (pages 545-564)

Two studies tested the hypothesis that preschool children's theory of mind ability is related to their levels of peer acceptance. In Study 1, 78 children between the ages of 4 and 6 provided peer nominations that allowed determination of social preference and social impact scores, and classification in one of five peer status groups (following Coie & Dodge, 1983). Children were also tested on five different theory of mind tasks. The results showed that theory of mind scores were significantly related to social preference scores in a subsample of children who were over 5 years old. Further, popular children were found to score higher on theory of mind tasks than children classified as rejected. Study 2 replicated and extended the first study with a new sample of 87 4‐ to 6‐year‐old children. Study 2 included measures of peer acceptance, theory of mind ability and verbal intelligence, as well as teacher ratings of prosocial and aggressive behaviours. The results of Study 2 showed that for the total group of children, prosocial behaviour was the best predictor of social preference scores. When the Study 2 sample was split into older and younger children, theory of mind ability was found to be the best predictor of social preference scores for the older children (over age 5), while aggressive and prosocial behaviours were the best predictors of peer acceptance in the younger children. Overall, the pattern of results suggests that the impact of theory of mind ability on peer acceptance is modest but increases with children's age.

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