Children's Theory of Mind, Self-Perceptions, and Peer Relations: A Longitudinal Study

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<ul><li><p>Infant and Child DevelopmentInf. Child. Dev. (2014)Published online in Wiley Online Library(wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI: 10.1002/icd.1878Childrens Theory of Mind, Self-Perceptions, and Peer Relations: ALongitudinal Study*Corresponden3A1, Canada.</p><p>Copyright 201Sandra Leanne Bosacki*Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, CanadaThis longitudinal study explored Theory of Mind (ToM), self-perceptions, and teacher ratings of peer relations of 91 children(52 females, ages 68 years) drawn from two schools situated in amainly Euro-Canadian, middle socioeconomic status, semi-ruralcentral Canadian context. ToM, self-perceptions, and teacher rat-ings of peer relations were assessed at Time 1 (T1, M= 6 y 2 m)and 2 years later at Time 2 (T2, M= 8 y 5 m). Findings showed thatToM scores and perceptions of global self-worth and physicalappearance significantly increased with time across both genders.Positive longitudinal associations were found between teacherratings of sociable peer relations at T1 and childrens T2 moralself-perceptions. A positive longitudinal correlation was foundbetween T1 ToM and T2 teacher ratings of anxious/fearful peerrelations. Individual variation in ToM at age 6 predicted teacher rat-ings of anxious and fearful behaviours in 8 year olds. In contrast,teacher ratings at age 6 did not predict ToM ability in 8 year olds.Educational implications for social and emotional competenciesare discussed. Copyright 2014 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Ltd.</p><p>Key words: Theory ofMind; self-perceptions; peer relations; childhoodAcross educational and psychological research domains, there has been a rise inthe interest in the emotional and social aspects of learning (Bruner, 1996; Rubin,Burgess, &amp; Coplan, 2002). Increasingly, recent research with young school childrenshows that peer relations and sociability may play a significant role in childrenssocioemotional and cognitive development (Rubin &amp; Burgess, 2001). In contrastto sociable behaviours in the classroom that have been found to be related topositive social and cognitive development (Rubin &amp; Burgess, 2001), research onsocial inhibition or the tendency to be fearful and anxious in challenging or novelsocial situations remains sparse, especially longitudinal research that exploreschanges over time during childhood (Mink, Henning, &amp; Aschersleben, 2014).Despite the theoretical and practical implications of investigating the inner andce to: Sandra Leanne Bosacki, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario L2SE-mail: Sandra.bosacki@brocku.ca</p><p>4 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Ltd.</p></li><li><p>S.L. Bosackisocial world of the socially inhibited child, empirical support for the links amongchildrens social inhibition and their ability to understand thoughts and emotionsin self and others or Theory of Mind (ToM), as well as their feelings of self-worth,remains sparse, and existing findings are inconsistent and variable (Hughes, 2011;Pons et al., 2004).</p><p>Thus, the main purpose of this research was to explore relations amongToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations in Canadian school-aged children.In particular, building on psychocultural and social ecological theories ofself-system and social behaviour (Bronfenbrenner &amp; Morris, 2006; Carpendale&amp; Lewis, 2004; Maccoby, 1998), this research explores teachers perceptionsregarding the socio-communicative competence and peer relations of childrenin their classrooms. Moreover, given past research that suggests advancedToM and particular anxious and fearful behaviours may be less toleratedand more problematic for young males than for young females (Akseer, Bosacki,Rose-Krasnor, &amp; Coplan, 2014; Rubin &amp; Coplan, 2004; Walker, 2005), genderdifferences were also explored.Theory of Mind, Self-Concept and Socioemotional Competence</p><p>Although social inhibition is often defined as the reluctance to engage in interper-sonal interactions (Kagan &amp; Snidman, 2004), it may also imply a metacognitive orevaluative component. For example, the relation between shyness and socialanxiety or embarrassment suggests an evaluation of the self against some kind ofideal self (Lewis, 1995). This often negative evaluation component may be linkedto metacognitive factors such as the ability to reflect on ones own thinking andself-image, in addition to various socialcultural factors such as gender and ethnicity.</p><p>Regarding the concept of self within middle childhood, although the literatureon childrens self-concept development is vast and beyond the scope of this article(see Bruner, 1996; Marshall, Parker, Ciarrochi, &amp; Heaven, 2014), for the purpose ofthis study, we have chosen to work within a developmental, psychocultural, andsocial ecological framework that defines the self as a multidimensional constructthat involves different aspects of oneself such as ones physical appearance andbody image, behavioural conduct, social acceptance, academic competence, andan overall feeling of global self-worth or a perceived personal happiness(Bronfenbrenner &amp; Morris, 2006; Harter, 1996). This self-system is also describedby some as a dynamic, fluid process that is co-created within conversation andsocial context (Carpendale &amp; Lewis, 2004; Markus &amp; Kitayama, 1994). Childrensviews of themselves as human beings, and also of a particular gender, are trans-mitted and reinforced by various social agents including family, peers, and themass media. For example, research shows that comments from role models suchas parents and teachers may influence childrens self-perceptions and attitudesconcerning moral behaviour, physical appearance, and peer relations (Maccoby,1998; Spilt, van Lier, Leflot, Onghena, &amp; Coplin, 2014).</p><p>Few studies examine the longitudinal associations among childrens ToM,self-perceptions, and peer relations within the school context during the agesof 610 years or middle childhood (Banerjee &amp; Henderson, 2001; Bosacki,2000; Hughes, 2011). Developmentally, middle childhood often involves theincreasing complexity of the school environment that represents childrensinteractions with teachers, peers, and others (Harter, 1996; Stipek, Recchia, &amp;McClintic, 1992). The social experiences during this time provide children withan opportunity to co-create different selves through their interactions withCopyright 2014 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Ltd. Inf. Child. Dev. (2014)DOI: 10.1002/icd</p></li><li><p>Theory of Mind, Self, and Peer Relationstheir peers, parents, and teachers (Bruner, 1996; Spilt et al., 2014; Wright &amp;Mahfoud, 2014). Given this complex social context of the school environment,and the possible influence of peers and teachers on childrens self-perceptions,childrens ToM ability may also influence how they relate to their peers. Forexample, past research suggests that how children view and feel aboutthemselves as well as think about others minds may have an influence onhow they understand and relate to their peers (Bosacki, 2000; Spilt et al.,2014; Verschueren, Buyck, &amp; Marooen, 2001). More specifically, past researchhas shown that children with a more advanced ToM may be more sensitiveto helpful and harmful comments from their peers and teachers (Hughes,2011; Lecce, Caputi, &amp; Hughes, 2011).</p><p>Despite the claims that suggest some young females may possess a less coherentand positive self-theory than some young males (Maccoby, 1998), and the empiri-cal evidence that preschool-aged girls show more frequent mental state talk thanboys (Fivush, 1989; Hughes, Deater-Deckard, &amp; Cutting, 1999; Hughes &amp; Dunn,1999), differential gender links between self-cognitions and peer relations,especially regarding socially inhibited children during middle childhood, havenot yet been studied in depth. For example, although little is known about thegendered connections among socially inhibited childrens ToM, perceptions of self,and peer relations during the middle childhood years (Banerjee &amp; Henderson,2001), few of the studies that exist suggest that advanced ToM may be associatedwith socially anxious behaviours in children (Wellman, Lane, LaBounty, &amp; Olson,2011), especially males (Walker, 2005). Thus, this study aimed to examine therole of gender and age in the links among childrens ToM, self-perceptions,and peer relations.Gendered Relations among Childrens Theory of Mind, Self-Perceptions,and Peer Relations</p><p>Teachers play a crucial role in both the gender role socialization and co-constructionof childrens socialcognitive and linguistic abilities (Arbeau&amp;Coplan, 2007; Purkey,2000; Spilt et al., 2014). Although there has been a growing interest in research on theassociations among ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations (Hughes, 2011; Lalonde&amp; Chandler, 1995; Villanueva Badenes, Clemente Estevan, &amp; Garcia Bacete, 2000),surprisingly, few researchers have studied the links among teachers perceptions ofchildrens peer relations, childrens self-perceptions, and their ToM. In general, theempirical evidence on the role of gender in ToM remains inconsistent, as pastresearch has found that girls outperform boys in ToM and emotion understandingtasks and receive higher emotional competence teacher ratings (Cutting &amp; Dunn,1999), as domiddle-school children (Bybee, 1998) and adults (Brody, 1999). Althoughresearchers have claimed that some young females seem to internalize earlier andmore completely the message that it matters how people feel, some studies havedemonstrated either that no gender differences exist in emotion competence(Banerjee &amp; Yuill, 1999) or that school-aged males outperform females (Laible &amp;Thompson, 1998).The Present Study</p><p>This study aimed to investigate the association between childrens developingsocial cognitions, particularly ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations. For example,global biases and deficits in sociocognitive processing may contribute generallyCopyright 2014 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Ltd. Inf. Child. Dev. (2014)DOI: 10.1002/icd</p></li><li><p>S.L. Bosackitowards peer relations and social adjustment (Hughes, 2011). More specifically, pastresearch on executive functioning suggests that differences in childrens emotionalregulatory and inhibitory control abilities may influence their ability to engage insocial interactions with their peers (Zelazo, 1998; Zelazo &amp; Cunningham, 2007).For example, socially anxious and fearful, asocial, and excluded children mayprocess social situations in similar ways to prosocial peers, but in the face of arousingsocial situations, they may regulate their emotions in different ways (Denham, 1998;Rubin et al., 2002). As suggested (Rubin, Chen, &amp; Hymel, 1993; Wichmann, Coplan,&amp; Daniels, 2004), socially anxious Canadian childrenmay evidence a social cognitiveperformance rather than a competence deficit.</p><p>To date, there remains little longitudinal research on the individual differencesamong childrens ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations (Hughes, 2011), partic-ularly within a Canadian context. Although some cross-sectional research suggeststhat reciprocal relations may exist between teacher ratings of childrens socialbehaviour, childrens self-perceptions, and ToM ability (Spilt et al., 2014; Walker,2005), few studies move beyond cross-sectional studies and explore the directionalinfluences among ToM, self-perceptions, and social relations. Given this gap in theliterature, the present study focused on the role that gender and age play inCanadian childrens ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations. Building onprevious literature that shows socially inhibited children may be more likely tobe more depressed, anxious, and hold more negative self-perceptions than theirprosocial age-mates (Rubin et al., 2002), the present study explored the longitudi-nal associations among ToM ability, self-perceptions (global self-worth, physicalappearance, and behavioural conduct), and peer relations in Canadian school-aged children. Given the limited prior evidence, we did not predict a priori thatan antecedent, consequence, or reciprocal model would exist, although given thepast research on childrens ToM and temperament (Mink et al., 2014) andperceived self-worth and social support (Marshall et al., 2014), we predicted thatadvanced ToM ability and low levels of perceived self-worth in 6 year olds maypredict teacher ratings of socially inhibited relations in 8 year olds.</p><p>This study also explored the role gender plays in the longitudinal associationsamong ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations among 6- to 8-year-old Canadianchildren over a period of 3 years. Based on past gendered peer relations and socialcognitive research (Crick &amp; Nelson, 2002; Saarni, 1999), gender-related differencesin the findings were expected to reflect stereotypic gender role expectations. Forexample, as past research suggests that socially inhibited young males are atgreater risk for socioemotional problems than young females (Coplan &amp; Armer,2005; Crick, 1996; Walker, 2005), this study explored the question of whethergender would influence teachers ratings of students peer relations. Accordingly,it was hypothesized that females compared with males would be rated by teachersas more sociable, reported a more positive sense of moral self, or saw themselvesas more well-behaved. Similarly, it was hypothesized that longitudinal correla-tional patterns would reflect age-related and gender-related differences amongchildrens ToM, self-perceptions, and peer relations.METHOD</p><p>Participants</p><p>As part of a larger study of childrens social understanding and social behav-iour during the middle childhood years (XXXX), the present study includedCopyright 2014 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Ltd. Inf. Child. Dev. (2014)DOI: 10.1002/icd</p></li><li><p>Theory of Mind, Self, and Peer Relations91 children (T1: 52 females, M=6 y, 4 m; 39 males, M=6 y, 3 m; T2: 44 females, 8y 3 m; 29 males, 8 y 2m) and their teachers (N=8, females). Participants wererecruited from two schools during the years of 20032006 within a mainlyEnglish-speaking, Euro-Canadian, middle socioeconomic status population, incentral Canada. Given the present sample decreased by 18 participants from T1(91) to T2 (73), possible reasons for attrition may have been due to various factorssuch as family moves and school changes, as these remain the limitations oflongitudinal studies.Measures</p><p>Second-order false belief taskGleaned from past research, to assess advanced or second-order ToM un-</p><p>derstanding or understanding other s mental states and emotions, adaptedversions of two brief vignettes consisting of two story characters were readand enacted out with dolls with the participant. Based on past research(Baron-Cohen, ORiordan, Stone, Jones, &amp; Plaisted, 1999; Hughes, 2011),stories consisted of misplaced object location scenarios in which participants wereasked, Where does Y look for the Z, and where does X think that Y will look forthe Z and why? Responses were coded for incorrect/correct responses to mem-ory check (two questions0/1 pass/fail)if participants correctly responded tomemory questions, they were asked the first-order and second-order questions.Responses were coded according to correct location (0/1), and justifications werecoded for mental s...</p></li></ul>

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