Mindreading and executive function in middle childhood across cultures

Zhenlin WANG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Mindreading is a developmental achievement that emerges early in life, and keeps evolving during adolescence and adulthood. The process of gaining insight into people’s mental world is backed up by cognitive attainments such as development of executive function (EF) and acquisition of language, as well as social factors including culture, family context, and interactional and pedagogical experience. During middle childhood and adolescence, theory of mind (ToM) continues to mature, EF keeps strengthening, and school experiences and social circles keep expanding. The current study seeks to explore the influence of EF and social factors, especially culture, on individual difference in ToM during middle childhood. The first goal of this study is to examine ToM development in middle childhood across cultures. Hong Kong children lag behind Western children in false belief understanding up to 2 years. We are interested in finding out whether Hong Kong children catch up in mindreading during middle childhood using a direct comparison between Hong Kong and UK 10- and 11-year-old children on a battery of age appropriate ToM tests including the silent film task, the strange story task, and the triangle task. This cross-cultural perspective is vital in unravelling the nature vs. nurture riddle in ToM development. Is ToM an innate, culturally universal construct that is merely triggered by environmental factors, or is it cultivated in a context of social interaction, displaying culturally specific developmental routes? Executive function is closely related to the manifestation of mindreading ability during early childhood. A recent meta-analysis reported a moderate correlation (r = .38) during early childhood between ToM and EF across countries. The second goal of this study is to compare the impact of EF on ToM development during middle childhood across cultures. By directly comparing the association between ToM and EF in Hong Kong and UK children, this study is the first empirical study to explore whether the universal association between EF and ToM during early childhood holds later in life.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


Wang, Z. (2015, June). Mindreading and executive function in middle childhood across cultures. Paper presented at the 2015 Quality Childhood Conference International (QCCI) Enhancing Quality Childhood Education: Synergizing Global Efforts, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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