Understanding the link between theory of mind and loneliness among primary school students: A cross-lagged panel model analysis

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Abstract

This study aimed to investigate the longitudinal association between theory of mind (ToM) and loneliness as well as the potential moderating effects of parenting style on this association. A total of 689 Chinese third-grade students (341 girls and 348 boys; Mage = 9.23 years, SD = 0.66) were recruited from eight primary schools and were followed from Grade 3 to Grade 5. These students reported their primary caregivers’ parenting style in third grade and completed the same ToM task and loneliness questionnaire at each time point from Grade 3 to Grade 5. The study's results indicated a bidirectional relationship between ToM and loneliness, implying that children with less developed ToM abilities tend to feel lonelier and, conversely, that higher levels of loneliness are associated with lower ToM skills. Moreover, the study demonstrated that parenting style influenced the association between ToM and loneliness. Specifically, the impact of ToM at Grade 3 on reducing loneliness at Grade 4 was greater among children who experienced high levels of rejection from their caregivers compared with those with low levels of rejection. In addition, this study found that loneliness at Grade 3 had a greater influence on ToM at Grade 5 for children experiencing low levels of emotional warmth from their caregivers than for those who experienced high levels of emotional warmth. These findings highlight the significance of ToM as both a precursor and consequence of children's loneliness and emphasize the variation in these longitudinal relationships based on the parenting styles of primary caregivers. Copyright 2024 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105891
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume242
Early online dateMar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Mar 2024

Citation

Yu, L., Li, L. M. W., & Tong, X. (2024). Understanding the link between theory of mind and loneliness among primary school students: A cross-lagged panel model analysis. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 242, Article 105891. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2024.105891

Keywords

  • Theory of mind
  • Loneliness
  • Parenting style
  • Primary school students

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