Theory of mind and executive function during middle childhood across cultures

Zhenlin WANG, Rory T. DEVINE, Keri K. WONG, Claire HUGHES

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119 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies with preschoolers have reported “East–West” contrasts in children’s executive function (East > West) and theory of mind (East < West). This cross-cultural study with two samples of older children from the United Kingdom and Hong Kong aimed to test competing accounts of these contrasts that focus on either global effects of culture or more specific effects of pedagogical experience. Both groups of children in Hong Kong outperformed the British children on executive function tasks. That is, with respect to executive function, general cultural influences appear to be salient. In contrast, compared with their U.K. counterparts, children attending local schools in Hong Kong (but not those attending British-based international schools in Hong Kong) performed poorly on age-appropriate tests of theory of mind. With respect to theory of mind, therefore, pedagogical experiences appear to be more salient than factors related to the broad contrast between individualist and collectivist cultures. Our findings also contribute to the debate surrounding the relationship between theory of mind and executive function; although scores on these two sets of tasks were robustly correlated within each country, the double dissociation between delayed theory of mind but superior executive function for children in local schools in Hong Kong compared with their U.K. peers suggests that variation in executive function may be necessary but is not sufficient to explain variation in theory of mind. Copyright © 2015 The Authors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-22
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online dateDec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


Wang, Z., Devine, R. T., Wong, K. K., & Hughes, C. (2016). Theory of mind and executive function during middle childhood across cultures. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 149, 6-22.


  • Theory of mind
  • Executive function
  • Middle childhood
  • Cross-cultural comparison
  • Pedagogical experience
  • Emergence account


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