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Child Development, March/April 2008, Volume 79, Number 2, Pages 284 – 302

Stepping Stones to Others’ Minds: Maternal Talk Relates to Child Mental State Language and Emotion Understanding at 15, 24, and 33 Months
Mele Taumoepeau and Ted Ruffman
University of Otago
This continuation of a previous study (Taumoepeau & Ruffman, 2006) examined the longitudinal relation between maternal mental state talk to 15- and 24-month-olds and their later mental state language and emotion understanding (N 5 74). The previous study found that maternal talk about the child’s desires to 15-month-old children uniquely predicted children’s mental state language and emotion task performance at 24 months. In the present study, at 24 months of age, mothers’ reference to others’ thoughts and knowledge was the most consistent predictor of children’s later mental state language at 33 months. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development provides a framework within which maternal talk, first, about the child’s desires and then about others’ thoughts and knowledge scaffolds children’s social understanding.

In this study, we examine how mother talk about mental states affects children’s later mental state language and emotion understanding. Despite the growing literature establishing that early maternal input is related to later child mental state understanding, the question of exactly how conversational input might affect mental state understanding in children remains elusive. Converging data from longitudinal studies, particularly in older children, show that mother talk about mental states including desires, thoughts, knowledge, and emotions accounts for variation in children’s developing appreciation of others’ minds, most notably in passing false belief tasks. Evidence comes from a range of theory of mind tasks (Ruffman, Slade, & Crowe, 2002) but especially assessments of understanding false belief (De Rosnay, 2003, cited in Harris, 2005a; De Rosnay, Pons, Harris, & Morrell, 2004; Jenkins, Turrell, Kogushi, Lollis, & Ross, 2003; Meins & Fernyhough, 1999) and emotions (De Rosnay et al., 2004; Dunn, Bretherton, & Munn, 1987). Although it is not clear precisely how mother talk helps, what appears central is that mother language rather than any other aspect of maternal connectedness to the child (e.g., attachment, warmth, and general parenting style), is the key component in the relation between mother input and later child social
The research was conducted during tenure of a Health Research Council of New Zealand, Pacific Health Research Postgraduate Award to Mele Taumoepeau.We would like to extend special thanks to the children and parents who generously gave us their time and to the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful critiques of an earlier version of this manuscript. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mele Taumoepeau, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand, 9054. Electronic mail may be sent to mele@psy.otago.ac.nz.

cognition (De Rosnay, 2003; Meins et al., 2002, cited in Harris, 2005a; Ruffman, Slade, Devitt, & Crowe, 2006). Although it is now well established that mother talk is related to 3- to 5-year-olds’ later social understanding, less is known about how mother talk might relate to social understanding in younger, conversationally immature children. Two studies speak to this question. Meins and Fernyhough (1999) found that maternal mind-minded comments to 6-month-olds, which accurately reflected the child’s mental states, were a predictor of false belief understanding several years later. In addition, we found that mother talk about desires but not thoughts and knowledge when a child was 15 months of age was an independent predictor of children’s performance on an emotion task and their mental state language at 24 months (Taumoepeau & Ruffman, 2006). These findings were robust over and above the child’s language abilities at 15 months, mothers’ socioeconomic status (SES) and mothers’ own emotion understanding. To address the specifics that underlie the relation between mother mental state language and children’s understanding of mind, we examine whether mothers ‘‘scaffold’’ children’s understanding, borrowing from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and building on current social interactionist theorizing (Astington, 1996; Carpendale & Lewis, 2004; Rogoff & Wertsch, 1984; Vygotsky, 1978). The zone of proximal development refers to the distance between the child’s independent problem-solving ability and her potential with assistance from more knowledgeable adults. Some researchers have argued that mothers

# 2008, Copyright the Author(s) Journal Compilation # 2008, Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2008/7902-0004

Mother, Infant, and Child Talk About Mental States

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work within the zone of proximal development to scaffold children’s understanding of mind through their talk at a level more advanced than the child’s independent ability level, but of course, not so advanced as to confuse the child about the mind (Fernyhough, 1996; Meins et al., 2002). Although previous researchers have demonstrated that mother talk about the mind is important, there is a lack of detail as to how mother talk about the mind might meet Vygotskian criteria. For instance, although mother talk might be related to later child theory of mind, how precisely do mothers pitch their talk at a level that is slightly beyond the child’s level? Below, we summarize our own view of how this might work. The first component to our proposal is that the incremental and differential exposure to specific mental states, first desires and then thoughts and knowledge, allows the child to build on and deepen existing knowledge of their own and others’ minds. The second component is that talk about the child’s mental states is a crucial first step in introducing language about the mind before talk about others becomes important. The successful interplay of these two components depends critically on the zone of proximal development in that the advantage obtained from exposure to certain mental state terms (desires vs. thoughts/knowledge), and to the child’s mental states before others’, depends on the fit with the child’s current level of mental understanding and conversational competence (Harris, 1996, 2005b). Thus, for children to receive maximum benefit, mother talk must be appropriately timed to fit with the child’s existing understanding. Only talk of this nature can help to make explicit a child’s underlying implicit understanding of mental states. Talk About Desires Versus Thoughts and Knowledge A feature of children’s early mind understanding, exemplified in various naturalistic and experimental studies, is the lag between a child’s understanding of desire and thoughts/knowledge. Not only is this evident in their use of desire and feeling language before think/know language (Bartsch & Wellman, 1995; Bretherton & Beeghly, 1982; Brown & Dunn, 1991) but also in their ability to predict how people will behave or feel based on their desires (Wellman & Woolley, 1990) before beliefs (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) and their ability to remember their own desires before their beliefs (Gopnik & Astington, 1988). Our interest is thus in how mother talk about desires first, and then beliefs next, can potentially play an important part in facilitating the transition from desire-based to beliefbased reasoning (Perner, 1991; Wellman, 1990). At 15

months, the youngest age tested in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006), mothers’ talk about desires was a more consistent predictor of later social understanding than talk about thoughts and knowledge. Our suggestion is that desire talk fits better into younger children’s zone of proximal development. One reason for desire talk being more effective initially is that young children have a better (though not full) understanding of desires relative to thoughts and knowledge. Indeed, some of the earliest developing theory-of-mind insights include an understanding of desires and intentions (sometimes called ‘‘goals’’), although it is not clear whether infants understand desires/intentions/goals as relations to objects/behavior (Gergely & Csibra, 2003; Perner & Ruffman, 2005; Phillips & Wellman, 2005; Ruffman & Perner, 2005) or mentalistically (Meltzoff, 1995; Woodward, Sommerville, & Guajardo, 2001). Either way, mother talk about desires when children are young (e.g., 15 months of age) will help to deepen infants’ understanding of desires/intentions/goals. Typically, explicitly referring to the child’s desires (e.g., ‘‘You want the rattle?’’) provides a more tangible reference to a common underlying mental state than would a reference to the child’s knowledge or thinking because desires are often accompanied by stereotypical facial expressions and/or actions, and because infants are predisposed to think about and try to satisfy their desires, making desires and their accompanying feelings very salient. Likewise, the idea that parents can assist learning by introducing concepts slightly above the child’s ability level would suggest that once children’s talk about desires has begun to be established, children will benefit more from talk about thoughts and knowledge (e.g., at 24 months of age). To reiterate, in our previous study (Taumoepeau & Ruffman, 2006), incorporating the first two time points of the present study, we demonstrated only that at 15 months, mother use of desire terms but not think/know terms was a predictor of child mental state language and emotion understanding at 24 months. Having established the importance of mother talk about desires when the child is 15 months, our interest in the present study is in whether mother talk about thinking and knowing at 24 months becomes increasingly important for their understanding of mental life at 33 months of age. Talk About the Child Versus Others One view regarding the development of mind understanding is that children understand the mind through simulation, that is, through imagining how they would feel if they were in another person’s

before language has really become established. To summarize. 2005). Kitamura. there were four goals in this study.’’ before the second-person pronoun.. then mothers’ talk about the child’s (as opposed to others’) mental states might be particularly important initially.. and by talking about desires which are typically more salient for children and have a more obvious external manifestation (i. if children’s theory of mind is not innate but is constructed through social experience. but not a means of understanding the underlying mental and physiological states if infants have never connected mental state words to their own internal experiences. If children’s understanding of mind is even partially based on simulation and a simulation is assisted by insight into one’s own mental states. to up the ante and talk more about others. Likewise. 1983). These ideas provide a framework for understanding why mothers and children talk more about the child initially (Baldwin. Mothers might provide much of the structure by talking mainly about the child’s rather than others’ mental states. Talk about someone else’s desires or emotions will only provide a means of labeling the other’s facial expression or actions. when language is first beginning. Children typically acquire the first-person pronoun. 1997). facial expression) than thoughts/ knowledge. and findings that most variance in false belief understanding is explained by environmental rather than genetic factors (Hughes et al.. Thanavishuth. 1988)..g..g. & Charney. Bard. Moreover. The comprehension and production of pronouns requires children to have some grasp of the deictic nature of these words. that the referent of the word differs depending on who is uttering the word and that within a communicative context. Language input to infants is also structured in ways thought to assist development. there is evidence that children’s success on Level I visual perspective-taking tasks (judging what others can or cannot see) tends to be related to. which until now has been unexplained or at least not linked to children’s subsequent social understanding. the development of social understanding would parallel language development. Kuhl et al. Bretherton. pronoun use is related to a number of markers of social understanding. ‘‘you’’ (Chiat. Girouard. In order to understand the referent of a mental state term. 1986. A particular version of this view holds that children require privileged access to their own mental states before that knowledge can be used to predict others’ mental states (Harris. Smiley & Huttenlocher. 1991. and high affect and greater articulation of vowels (e. children need to understand the personal pronouns that signal whose mental state is being referred to. & Luksaneeyanawin.. 1987. 2005). Thus. Johnson. for example. following Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006). 2002. ‘‘I. Thus. There are empirical precedents for these ideas in that children use action verbs relating to themselves before they apply them to others (Huttenlocher. understanding the self (through mother talk about the child) is an important first step in understanding others’ minds. the same pronoun may apply to several different people (e.286 Taumoepeau and Ruffman circumstances. 1985. O’Neill. and precede.’’ ‘‘me.g. Additionally. many gestures (e. Meins et al. their full mastery (compre- hension and production) of first. First. Fernald.g. ‘‘you’’).g.e. & Mervis. 1986). 2002). 2004). Carpendale & Lewis.. 1989). then an important question is whether they have to discern all structure in the input they receive or whether the input is partly structured for them.. we propose that initially. They also help to flesh out social constructivist views of how children might acquire a theory of mind (e. How Might Parents Monitor a Child’s Developing Social Understanding? In line with these ideas regarding the initial importance of references to the child’s internal states. Linnell. mothers might use this as evidence of a fledging understanding of self. pointing) when for instance labeling objects (e. Then later. 1991.g. 1999). Bates & Goodman. When children begin to use personal pronouns. Lewis and Ramsay (2004) demonstrated that greater use of personal pronouns (a marker of developing self – other understanding) related to two other markers of social understanding: mirror self-recognition and participation in pretend play involving self and others. children’s use of personal pronouns may signal explicitly to parents their understanding of the distinction between self versus other. talk about children’s own mental states might provide them with the first opportunity to think explicitly about the internal experiences associated with their desires or emotions. Dunn et al. & Fluck..and second-person pronouns (Ricard.. and that children’s pronoun use provides them with one guide (likely among many) regarding children’s understanding. that is. for example. 1999. including higher pitch and exaggerated intonation contours (e. Smiley. In this way. we . & Decarie. Burnham.. talk about others becomes important. Beeghly. the onus on the child is reduced and learning about mental states becomes more tractable. To reiterate. We argue that mothers alter their talk with children based on the child’s current level of understanding.

3 – 15. Three mothers did not return the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (MCDI) reports and two did not attend Time 2 testing.8 months). we hypothesized that mother mental state talk about others would begin to exert more influence over a child’s later social understanding. we were able to examine only the relation between mother talk at 15 months and child understanding at 24 months. proposing that as children’s personal pronoun use develops. 1997). The mean age at Time 1 was 14. and Time 3 Time 1 Mother and child Child Picture book task MCDI: Words and gestures Method To aid comparisons to Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006). some aspects of their Time 1 are described below. we partialed out several potentially confounding variables including all earlier child language. 33 girls). at Time 2. 2006). leaving 72 children (39 boys vs. The mothers and children were tested in a quiet room at the psychology department.5 months). By partialing out mothers’ own emotion task performance (as in Taumoepeau and Ruffman. mother SES. RDLS 5 Reynell Developmental Language Scales. making 74 mother – infant pairs at Times 1 and 2 (71 mother – infant pairs and 3 father – infant pairs: 41 infant males and 33 females). At Times 1. . MCDI 5 MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory. desire vs. The present study allowed us to test our prediction that by 24 months of age mother talk about thoughts and knowledge would have an increasing impact (relative to desire talk) on child social understanding at 33 months. The mothers and children were tested at 15.8 months (range 5 31.2 – 34. In addition. 2. The mothers were then phoned to ask if they would like to participate in this particular study.g. at Times 2 and 3. a further two families left the area.3 – 26. and 3. Infants were primarily of European descent (70 infants). In our previous study.2 months (range 5 23. Edwards et al. 24. and at Time 3. Our third goal related to the referent of mother talk.. 2006). 32. Participants Mothers were asked at the birth of their child if they would like to participate in any child-related studies that the university psychology department might undertake. mothers’ own emotion understanding. and the mothers were of mixed SES (see Time 2 Picture book task MCDI: Words and sentences RDLS III Emotion situation task Body emotion task Time 3 Picture book task MCDI III RDLS III Emotion situation task Body emotion task Mother Emotion face – emotion sound Emotion face – emotion written word Note. Infant. we could examine whether it was truly the things mothers said that were related to child social understanding or that mothers who used mental state language also had better social understanding themselves and passed this on to their children independently of the things they said. we examine the potential mediating role of children’s personal pronoun use on the referent of mothers’ mental state talk. and Child Talk About Mental States 287 examined whether the proportion of think/know talk relative to desire talk would continue to increase.8 months). and other types of mother language such as nonmental state language. 24. mothers described the same collection of pictures to their child and the child’s general and mental state vocabulary was assessed via a checklist (see Table 1 for a description of tasks at each time point). mothers talk more about others’ mental states. Table 1 Child and Mother Tasks Given at Time 1. In conducting these analyses. Finally. At Time 3. Second.. children were administered two emotion tasks and the Reynell Developmental Language Scales III (RDLS. think/know) and two indices of child social understanding at 33 months (mental state language and emotion task performance).8 months (range 5 14. Mothers were advised that we were interested in children’s social and language development and how parents contribute to this development. we examined the relation between the type of mother mental state language at 15 and 24 months (e. and 33 months of age. Although we found that references to the child’s desires at 15 months of age were predictors of emotion understanding and desire language at 24 months of age (Taumoepeau & Ruffman. Time 2.Mother. At no point were parents told that we were interested in their use of specific mental state terms.

Child emotion situation task (Time 2). The children were presented with eight pictures on a 36-cm computer screen of a person (four male and four female) experiencing either happiness or sadness (four of each). mothers described both books during the same session.g. Child language: MCDI. head in hands). A complete list of both supplementary lists may be found in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006).’’ and ‘‘scared’’). emotion (e. ‘‘look’’ and ‘‘listen’’) At Times 2 and 3. ‘‘annoyed.288 Taumoepeau and Ruffman below). I wonder how she feels.’’ The child was then required to point to the face that best depicted how the person was feeling. In addition. 2002).g. including 18 pictures depicting adults and children expressing a range of emotions and 12 pictures depicting people and animals. a girl pushing a kitten in a toy shopping basket. the words their child produced. Ellertsen. children were also tested on their . Validity ratings of the faces in a previous study ranged from 80% to 97% agreement among adults (Tottenham.. we included a supplementary checklist of internal state words adapted from Bretherton and Beeghly (1982). the experimenter said.. Child emotion situation task and body emotion task (Time 3). Children were also tested on their ability to discern how a person was feeling from their body position. physical state (e. and the senses (e. 1993). Two books contained a total of 30 photographs. we can’t see his face. 2007).’’ ‘‘smile. Mothers were asked to engage in a short picture-describing session with their children. and the audio recording of the narrative was transcribed and scored later by two coders. I will leave the room while you describe the pictures. The administration of the task was identical to the emotion situation task. and the infants received a small gift.g.g. this included an extra 58 terms. ‘‘want. & Nelson. Children were tested at the second time point on their ability to discern how a person felt. showing the original picture of the person situation at the top of the screen and two other pictures of a person’s head expressing a choice of two emotions positioned vertically below the original picture (see the Appendix in Taumoepeau and Ruffman. Mothers were reimbursed for their travel expenses. Ridgeway. a boy being chased by a lion). The person’s face was not visible and the only clues were through body position (e. The experimenter then asked the child twice: ‘‘Can you find his face. We can’t see her face. The happy and sad faces were selected from the MacBrain Face Stimulus Set. mothers described the books at separate sessions.’’ ‘‘hope. children were seated on their mothers’ laps approximately 30 cm away from a 36-cm computer screen. (2002). At Time 2. Once the mother and infant were seated in a comfortable chair. In the training phase. Barscheid. The experimenter said to the child: ‘‘Oh. including mental state (e. and Ruffman et al. The children were administered the RDLS according to the published testing protocol. and the position to which the experimenter initially pointed was counterbalanced between the top and the bottom pictures. is it this one or this one?’’). and the only clues to how the protagonist was feeling were from situational clues. a further 25-supplementary terms in the cognitive and modulations of assertions (e. ‘‘Point to the teddy..g. the mothers filled out the MCDI: Words and Gestures checklist (Fenson et al. The protagonist’s face was blanked out. ‘‘might’’ and ‘‘probably’’) categories were included. Child body emotion task (Time 2). Materials and Procedure Picture book task. The children were first presented with five sets of training pictures in order to familiarize them with the procedure for pointing (e.. ‘‘Describe the pictures to your child as if you were at home reading a story. In order to reduce testing length and to retain the children’s attention at Time 3. whereas at Times 2 and 3.g. For Time 1. mothers indicated using the MCDI: Words and Sentences checklist. 2006. children were then presented with a series of eight cartoon-style vignettes designed to elicit a specific emotional reaction from the protagonist (e. for a complete list of situations and emotion choices)...g. and a boy clapping his hands after building a tower of blocks. they were not administered the single word comprehension section of the test (first 10 items). a girl in a swimming pool with an angry expression on her face.. as part of the general MCDI checklist. At Time 3. ‘‘cry. When you get to the end of the book I will come back. indicating whether their child understood and/or produced any of the listed words.’’ and ‘‘laugh’’). At Time 1.. Child language (Times 2 and 3): RDLS. The experimenter instructed children to ‘‘Look at that lady/man/girl. In the test phase.. Waters and Kuczaj (1985). At Time 1. Some examples of the pictures are as follows: a girl and mother feeding ducks at the park. At Time 3. I wonder how he feels?’’ The children were then presented with another screen.. look. Marcus. does he feel like this or like this?’’ The positioning of the correct face was randomly assigned to the top or bottom position.’’ and ‘‘wish’’).g.’’ A small microphone was attached to the mother’s collar. mothers indicated the words their children produced using the MCDI: Level III (Fenson et al.’’ ‘‘angry.

’’ including all affective references that were not purely sad but could be interpreted as dissatisfaction or anger. The mothers were given two emotion recognition tasks. However. anger.’’ ‘‘not happy. and Child Talk About Mental States 289 ability to discern how a person felt using reduced versions of the emotion situation and body emotion tasks at Time 2 (see the Appendix). Child language (MCDI: Personal pronouns). six depicted 100% pure emotional expressions and 18 were emotion ‘‘morphs’’ (i.. ‘‘happy. Bartsch and Wellman (1995) reported that parents’ genuine use of ‘‘think’’ and ‘‘know’’ terms far exceeded conversational and uncodeable references (see also Booth.. in keeping with other more inclusive analyses. The general criteria for coding were taken from Bartsch and Wellman (1995) as well as Ruffman et al. We restricted our analysis to this time point. sadness.’’ ‘‘sad. The second task examined mothers’ ability to match a picture of an emotional expression with a corresponding emotion word. For this reason. our main interest was in mother use of all mental terms not just ‘‘genuine’’ terms (see also Jenkins et al. Hall. At Time 1. Scoring Child language (MCDI). the children were seated at a small table and presented with printed pictures (20 cm  15 cm). The percentage correct on the emotion situation and body emotion tasks was calculated. and the task required mothers to point to the facial expression that matched the auditory expression. the pictures in 18 out of the 24 trials were morphed with another emotion. Mothers examined the pictures for 4 s after which the screen went blank for 3 s while they circled their answer. tested their ability to match a verbal emotional expression with a corresponding picture. Separate MCDI raw syntax scores were also calculated. Mothers were presented with 24 trials. 2003).’’ and ‘‘not pleased’’) and ‘‘other’’ which included terms such as ‘‘worried’’ or ‘‘bored. Raw scores were calculated for the numbers of first-person pronouns (I. a dichotomous score was then assigned identifying children who used at least one firstperson pronoun versus children who did not use any. me.74 to . Each task was administered in the same way as at Time 2. On each trial. (2002). Mother emotion recognition tasks. for each type of mental state utterance.’’ ‘‘not very happy. we examined mental state utterances as a percentage of total utterances (Meins et al.98. and my) mothers reported their children to produce at 24 months (Time 2). At Times 2 and 3. emotion. 1976). each of which presented the same male figure (JJ) expressing happiness. We coded each type of mental state term separately because we were interested in the differences between early and later mother talk and how references to specific mental state types changed over time. except that rather than being presented on a computer screen. we did exclude all mental states that occurred in exactly repeated utterances and ‘‘I don’t know’’ utterances on their own. think/know. as this is the period when children are most likely to start using personal pronouns. Child language (RDLS). Mothers were administered 24 trials in which they were presented with a choice of four pictures depicting the same male (JJ) and an emotion word presented in the center of the screen. and because mothers’ use of all types of mental terms could potentially teach children. Raw scores were calculated for the number correct in the comprehension and production sections. 1997).. taken from Sullivan and Ruffman (2004).. the six facial expressions were paired with an auditory expression of emotion (one of the six expressions above). Similar to the first task. The first task. disgust. such as ‘‘unhappy. mixtures of two expressions with one emotion predominating). separate raw scores were calculated for the total number of desire and emotion terms and total mental state terms (including desire and emotion). although an exhaustive list can be found in Ruffman et al. & Kim. Mother mental state terms included all references to emotion (e.’’ . (2002). Cohen’s kappas for the coding categories ranged from . Mother language (picture task). presented on a 38-cm computer screen. In addition. In order to control for mother verbosity. The picture task was used to measure mother (but not child) mental state utterances.’’ ‘‘pleased.Mother.e. Child emotion tasks (Times 2 and 3). Robison. mine. and emotion terms. 2003). and surprise (Ekman & Freisen. separate MCDI raw syntax scores were calculated. We give a summary below of the terms included in the different coding categories. Of the 24 trials. fear. Infant. Again. Utterances that exactly repeated one’s own or the other person’s mental state utterance and ‘‘I don’t know’’ utterances were excluded.g. and think/know terms were calculated. whereas no children were reported to use any think/know terms. separate raw scores for desire. Other cognitive terms and modulations of assertion were too rare to justify inclusion as separate scores but were included in a total mental state score along with desire.’’ and ‘‘not happy. These shorter tasks were created in order to assist concentration on the tasks at Time 3 because the children were also given a lengthy language assessment.

’’ referred to utterances that were simple descriptions of the pictures (e. 54 children completed the emotion situation task and 43 children completed the body emotion task.’’ ‘‘must.. . In some instances. to give a full picture.g.’’ ‘‘like. except the ‘‘mental state other’’ category were consistently correlated across Times 2 and 3 (see Table 4). The remainder of the results are separated into three main sections. 1 5 high school graduation.49. Mother and Child Performance on Emotion Tasks At Time 2. and mental state term.’’ and ‘‘hope.’’ and ‘‘maybe’’). smiling.001. 68) 5 20. mothers made frequent attempts to engage their children’s attention and we referred to such attempts as orienting utterances.001.001. Time 3) Â 5 (mental state: emotion.22. At Time 3.83. ‘‘Do we tell Daddy he’s naughty when he’s angry?’’: link and emotion).290 Taumoepeau and Ruffman A second category of mental state terms was general references to desire. and giggling).’’ ‘‘love.05. 3 5 polytechnic diploma. F(4. . Mothers performed better than chance in both the emotion face—written word task. other mental states) analysis of variance. we also separately coded mothers’ references to animals and animal sounds. A fourth category was modulations of assertions.. ‘‘Oh’’) designed to draw the child’s attention to a picture. and the body emotion task. Maternal education level. ‘‘might. The results yielded main effects for time. First. as well as the body emotion task... The first category. . p . The girl is playing).61. 69 children completed both the emotion situation and the emotion body task. 62) 5 40.05. p . and a significant interaction.g.’’ and ‘‘forget’’). we examine changes across time in the type of mothers’ and children’s mental state talk and longitudinal relations between mother talk and child social understanding. p . terms that modulated the certainty of a proposition (e. included terms that referred to some kind of mental activity but were not included in one of the above categories (e. . t(73) 5 38.001 (see Figure 1). All mental state terms. p . belief.. 66) 5 90. F(8. we examine how the referent of mother talk changes over time. with children doing better than chance in both the emotion situation task. there’s a girl’’ and ‘‘What’s that?’’) and nonlinguistic attempts such as a sharp inhalation of breath (e.’’ A third category of mental state terms was cognitive terms. p . ‘‘Do we tell Daddy he’s naughty if he’s angry?’’ ‘‘But we have a goat don’t we?’’). p . including ‘‘want. At this time point. other. Table 2 includes the changes in mother mental state talk over time.001. t(73) 5 26. tired. as well as child and mother performance on the emotion tasks. including ‘‘think’’ and ‘‘know’’ but not ‘‘don’t know’’ as an isolated utterance. The final mental state category.g.09.g. hungry. We also coded for nonmental state utterances (see Ruffman et al.g. In addition. thirsty.66. t(68) 5 2. . . 5 5 postgraduate degree.g. F(2. and the longitudinal relation between the referent of early mother talk and later child social understanding. There were two types of orienting utterances: linguistic (‘‘Look. ‘‘remember.’’ ‘‘understand..82. . Our previous analysis of mother mental state talk between Time 1 (15 months) and Time 2 revealed that mother desire language decreased significantly and Results Table 2 includes the descriptive statistics for mother mental and nonmental state utterances. modulations of assertion..05. t(43) 5 2. ‘‘Body parts’’ referred to either a depicted character’s facial and body features or to the child’s body features. children performed better than chance on the emotion situation task. ‘‘descriptions. Consistency in Mother Mental State Talk Across Time Our first analysis examined whether mother mental state talk was consistent over Times 2 and 3. 2 5 some university or polytechnic papers. 4 5 undergraduate degree. t(53) 5 3.’’ ‘‘don’t like. laughing. p . ‘‘Links’’ were utterances which linked something the mother talked about in the pictures to things in the child’s own life (e. we conducted a 3 (time: Time 1. Then.001. . p . As a measure of SES.. mental state talk separated by referent (self. Time 2. and the emotion face—emotion expression task. 2002. Type of Mental State Talk Changes across time in mother mental state language.. Table 3 includes the descriptive statistics for mother . we describe changes between Times 1 and 2 initially described in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006). t(68) 5 3.001. Other categories included ‘‘physical state. and other). The coding categories were not exclusive and therefore each utterance could have several codes (e. Finally.48. p .g. To explore these data.’’ which referred to any physiological sensations either the characters or the children were experiencing (e. mothers’ education was coded on a 6-point scale: 0 5 no high school graduation (left school at 15). and Table 2 for examples). child. we examine the role of pronouns. desire. Because our pictures frequently depicted animals.

69) (3.40 1.53 (1.05) (0.95) (4.22 0 – 21.69) 19.05 (tested against chance).39 (3.69 0 – 19.18 (2.30 – 36.56 (1.87 8.04) 2.26 (3.76 0 – 8.36 6.76* (22.84) 3.22 0 – 12.04) (2.55) (2. Infant.00 0 – 1.08 21.00 – 33.90) (3.25) (1.93 0.35 (3.30 (.53 0 – 4.94) 0.98) (4.02 3.42) 1. All mother mental state variables are calculated as percentages of overall utterances.49 (2.38) 25.31) (5.13) — 38.16 2.51 0.83) 11.46) (0.00 0 – 7.00 0 – 10.17 (5.33 3.34) (12.00 5.56) 59.Table 2 Descriptive Statistics of Key Measures Time 1 M (SD) Range (SD) Range M M (SD) Time 2 Time 3 Range 5.96) 18.01 (tested against chance).04) 0.89) (2.67** (21.50 (2.80 0 – 13.35 (3.49 4.60 6.59 0 – 11.57 0 – 16.20 – 41.28) 1.75 0 – 11.31 2.94 0 – 7.00 0 – 14.92 8.98) (2.64) — — — — — 2. MCDI 5 MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory.50 0 – 17.35) (2.96) (1.03) 0 – 7.04 (1.25) (1.03 0 – 4.00 0 – 10.15) 1.65 0 – 14.50 (6.21 0.84) (3.11 0 – 28 0 – 10 0–7 2 – 61 0 – 12 — 13 – 64 25 – 100 25 – 100 Mother mental state utterances Emotion Desire Think and know Modulations of assertion Other mental state Mother nonmental state utterances Descriptions Links Body parts Physical state Mother exact self-repetitions Animals Child measures MCDI emotion terms MCDI desire terms MCDI think/know MCDI total mental state MCDI syntax MCDI first-person pronouns RDLS Emotion situation task (% correct) Body emotion task (% correct) Mother tasks Maternal SES Emotion picture—emotional expression task Emotion picture—written word task Mother.09 0 – 11.50) 6.27) 1.66) 56.24) 0.47) (1.04 (1.28) 0 – 15.80 (1.68 1.93 0.37) 57.32 24.16 (3.92) (0.49 21.00 0 – 27. *p . .19) 0 2.24) 8.07 (3.75 (5.33 – 37.39) 3.91) (2. . RDLS 5 Reynell Developmental Language Scales III.91 3.61) (6. and Child Talk About Mental States 291 Note.89 3.98) (1.48 0 – 3.99) (1.33 0 – 6.72 0.01) 20.52* (17.74 4.35 (16.80 (8.20* (14.36 (11.48) 0.00 0 – 13 0–6 0–2 0 – 16 0 – 70 0–4 8 – 50 25 – 88 25 – 100 — — — 0 – 18. .46) 56.36 (2.10 (3.47 (10.33 9. SES 5 socioeconomic status.16) (5.08 (0.87 (1.87 2.03 3.82) 0–5 6 – 23 9 – 23 — — — 0–7 0–5 0 0 – 14 — — — — — 2.18 0 – 3.46) 4.00 0 – 11.06) 1.66 (1.00 0 – 7.36) 1.33 3.50) 16.94 4. **p .14 0 – 7.51 (4.91 2.

08 0 – 0.52 0 – 6. . ns (see Figure 1). there was a significant increase in children’s reported use of emotion terms and desire terms (both ps .41** .26* .26 (0.78 (1.25.31** . applying Holms correction to ensure the family-wise error was less than .09) 0.22 1.01 1.29 (2.86 0 – 6.20 À.13.001) but not think/know language. Between Times 1 and 2.00 0.03 (0. while at the same time increasing their use of think/know language across all three time points.30* .16 .86) 2. 2006). We conducted a 3 (time: Time 1. modulations of assertions. and Time 2 – Time 3). .16 0. and an interaction between time and mental state.73 (1.33** .20) (0. To explore this interaction.10 .46** .34 (1. F(1.52 0 – 1.06 . . desire.06 M (SD) 2.34 1. and think/know terms (all ps . ns.17 .04) 0. think/know) repeated measures analysis of variance. F(1.00 0 – 5.07) (1.56) 0.73) Range 0 – 6.56 0 – 5.29* . 70) 5 9.51 (3.12 .76. 70) 5 2.82 0 – 2.13 À.99 1.72 0 – 5.86) 2.67 0 – 6.36 (. .32** .20) 7.02 (1.14 (0.43 0 – 11.14 .27* .292 Taumoepeau and Ruffman Table 3 Descriptive Statistics for Mother Mental State References to Other.63 0 – 10.47) (1.05 .00 (1.18 .001. mothers continued to use but did not increase their emotion and desire language.56 0 – 0.22 . The results yielded main effects of time. none) of each type of mental state term (see Figure 2).02 (. We next conducted analogous analyses to examine the change in children’s use of mental state terms (not previously analyzed in Taumoepeau and Ruffman. F(1. 69) 5 204.09 (0.30* .52 0 – 0.001).29. F(2.47) 0. and 3 Time 1 Mother talk about Total other Total self Total child Desire other Desire self Desire child Think/know other Think/know self Think/know child Other mental state other Other mental state self Other mental state child M (SD) 1. and Child at Times 1. p .04 .44) 1.43 0 – 9.15 (1.06 .19) 0.09 (4.10 0 – 4.48 0 – 0.09) Time 2 Range 0 – 6.55** .40** . 2.45** .76 0 – 4.41 0 – 1.36.91) 0. and mental state term.06 (.16 .29 0 – 0.34** .12 . Between Times 2 and 3.05 (2.06 .86.29* . F(1.25 0 – 13.36** .85. Time 2. Thus. .11) (0.65 0 – 7.17 .56) Time 3 Range 0 – 6.52) (1.34) 0. p .15) 5.22 0 – 5. To explore the interaction and the changes between Times 2 and 3.23* .27) 1.07 (1. Between Times 2 and 3.69 (1. Changes across time in child mental state language.63) (0.03) (0.15 . 70) 5 107.00 0 – 5. p .00 0 – 5. Table 2 includes these data. we plotted the percentage of children at each time point who were reported to use at least some (vs.24 (.10 . we conducted five one-way analyses of variance. 69) 5 93.40) (2.02 .27* . 69) 5 115. To obtain a better picture of the extent of mental state talk in individual children.09 T2 emotion T2 think/know T2 modulations of assertion T2 mental state other T3 desire T3 emotion T3 think/know T3 modulations of assertion Mother talk T2 emotion T2 think/know T2 modulations of assertion T2 mental state other T3 desire T3 emotion T3 think/know T3 modulations of assertion T3 mental state other .01.07) 0.76 M (SD) 1.68 0 – 2.23) 0. p .05. 70) 5 28.01. F(2.58) (1.37 0 – 4.001.63 (1.24 (2.11) 3. . there were increases in mother use of think/ know.14) 1.00 0 – 10. Self.48 0 – 3.44) (2. or mother desire language.55) 0.24* .25 0 – 22. We then used Table 4 Zero-Order Correlations Between Mother Talk About Mental States at Times 2 and 3 T2 desire .46** .61** .28 2.18 1.51** . we conducted two one-way analyses of variance (Time 1 – Time 2.10 (1.81 0. p . there was a significant increase in the number of emotion terms.15) 2. F(1.06 0.001. Time 3) Â 3 (mental state term: emotion.16 0.09 .30 think/know language increased significantly.78) 0. 70) 5 0.34) (0.001.01 (0.09) 0. . F(2.47 0 – 0. and other mental states.97 0 – 8.27 (0. . desire terms.01 .66) 0.67 0 – 7. applying Holms correction for each set. p .001.59 0 – 1. There was no change in the use of mother emotion language.

. We entered in the first step all potentially confounding variables (e. but not for think/know terms.001). No mother nonmental state language at Time 2 correlated with child total mental state language or task performance at Time 3. Next. but there were no other correlations. and Child Talk About Mental States 9 8 Desire Think/Know Emotion Modulations of Assertion Other Mental States 293 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Figure 1.Mother. Mothers’ think/know talk was by far the most consistent correlate. Within Time 2. having partialed out all Time 2 child language (MCDI words and syntax and RDLS total score). Preliminary analyses revealed no relation between mother mental state talk at 15 months and child mental state language and emotion understanding at 33 months. whereas there was only a significant increase in think/know language between Times 2 and 3. correlating with all types of child mental state talk. child mental state language at Time 1. Thus. with the targeted Time 2 Percentage Percentage of Utterances . an even more consistent correlate was mother talk about thoughts/knowledge at Time 2. Table 6 lists partial correlations between Time 2 mother talk and Time 3 child mental state understanding. We reported in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006) that mother use of desire language at 15 months was a unique predictor of child mental state language and performance on the emotion situation task at 24 months. Changes across time in the percentage of mother mental state language.g. Based on the significant correlations in Table 6.001). McNemar’s test to determine whether there was an increase in the percentage of children using particular terms between time points. Between Times 2 and 3. across both analyses children’s emotion and desire language continued to increase between all time points. and descriptions which correlated negatively with child desire talk at Time 3. Infant. the percentage of children producing desire and emotion terms increased (both ps . total Time 2 child language. with the exception of links which correlated with child desire talk at Time 3. Relation between mother mental state language and child mental state language within time points. As reported in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006).. Mother talk about desires at Time 2 correlated with two of the four child mental state language measures but neither emotion task at Time 3. SES. The same was true of mother emotion talk. other significant correlates from Table 5). mother emotion task performance. Yet. desire or think/know) accounted for the most variance in later child mental state language (see Table 7). the percentage of children producing all types of terms increased (all ps . none) of each type of mental state term. mother desire language and think/know talk were significant correlates of child emotion language. and mother performance on the emotion tasks. Percentage of children at each time point who were reported to use at least one (vs. mother SES. we next used linear regression to examine which type of Time 2 mother mental state language (emotion. Between Times 1 and 2. We therefore restricted analyses to the relation between mother talk at 24 months and child mental state understanding—language and emotion task performance—at 33 months. Table 5 includes the Time 3 intercorrelations and reveals the increased importance of mother think/know talk. and child mental state language and task performance at Time 3. we examined the predictive relation between mother mental state language and later child mental state language and emotion task performance. which correlated with three of four child language measures at Time 3 as well as one of two emotion tasks at Time 3 (double the number of correlations compared to mother desire and emotion talk). mother mental state language at Time 1 did not correlate with 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 15 Months 24 Months 33 Months Emotion Desire Think/Know Time Points Figure 2. Relation between mother language at Times 1 and 2. .

21 À. Mother mental state other 10. these results suggest a unidirectional relation such that child talk about mental Referent of Mother Mental State Talk Changes in referent over time.05 . we found that child mental state language did not predict later mother use of desire language (the significant predictor of later child mental state language between Times 1 and 2).35** . Mother talk about thinking and knowing accounted for 11% of the variance.31** . Child MCDI total mental state 5.51** . Therefore. Mother modulations of assertion Note. mother talk about thoughts and knowledge contributed unique variance in later child emotion task performance.12 À.06 .95** .76** .02 . We conducted a similar analysis in which we examined the extent to which child talk about mental states at Time 2 predicted mother talk about thoughts and knowledge (the most consistent Time 2 predictor of later child mental state talk and emotion understanding.36** . After accounting for shared variance with mother think/know talk at Time 2.31** 9 . mother performance on the emotion tasks and SES.26* À. although no individual type of mother mental state talk remained significant after accounting for shared variance due to the other variables.36** À. Child observed total mental state 6.56** .05 À. .294 Taumoepeau and Ruffman Table 5 Zero-Order Correlations Between Time 3 Mother Talk About Mental States and Child Mental State Language at Time 3 1. and think/know talk at Time 2 accounted for 10% of the variance over and above the variance attributed to child language at Time 2 SES and mother performance on the emotion tasks. *p .38** . mother emotion.01 (all significance tests are one tailed).05.08 . In addition.23 . Is child talk about mental states related to later mother talk about mental states? In our previous study (Taumoepeau & Ruffman. Together.01 . over and above child language and emotion situation task performance at Time 2. Mother desire 7. predictor variable entered in the second step. After accounting for all Time 2 child mental state talk.07 .38** . Child MCDI belief 4. neither variable was a significant predictor of Time 3 performance. We were also interested in whether mother talk about links and mother think/know talk at Time 2 were unique correlates of later child desire talk. We considered the extent to which mothers referred to their own. To summarize. we were also interested in how much unique variance could be attributed to this variable. Child MCDI desire 3.14 1 .32** . MCDI 5 MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory.11 . mother emotion task performance and SES.16 3 .68** .26* À.36** 6 . see Table 7) at Time 3.27* .19 4 .14 7 . Mother emotion 8. child talk about mental states was not a significant predictor of later mother talk about thoughts and knowledge.17 À. Mother think/know 9.21 5 . mother talk about thoughts and knowledge emerged as a more consistent correlate. **p . 2006). desire.02 .03 .29* .85** . the .03 . .13 .55** 8 .14 .13 .35** . although mother talk about desires continued to contribute variance in later child talk about mental states. The first dependent variable we examined was child total mental state talk at Time 3. As mother think/know talk at Time 2 was the only predictor of children’s performance on the emotion situation task at Time 3.14 2 . Child MCDI emotion 2.

23* À. F(1.15 . Between Times 2 and 3 (after applying Holms correction). mother.00 À.001). and a three-way interaction between mental state type.13 . and increased references to their own knowledge and thinking.07 À. . Talk about the child’s thoughts and knowledge produced only one correlation with later child emotion task performance.06 À. . accounting for unique variance in later child mental state talk and emotion task performance (4 of 5 correlations significant). Partialing out socioeconomic status.001.11 À.28* .29** .12 À.01 À.11 À. **p . . Time 2. .07 Note. F(4.10 À.23.02 . F(2. . . mother talk about the child’s desires was the most consistent correlate. y p .09 À.22y À.07 À. F(2.05.84. referent. Infant. The general trend between Times 2 and 3. we found that between Time 1 (15 months) and Time 2 (24 months).31* .001).11 À.00 . in both cases applying Holms correction to ensure the family-wise error rate was less than .25* À.01 À. and talk about the child’s desires was negatively correlated.03 À. and six analyses of variance to explore the interaction between Times 2 and 3 mother mental state talk.15 À. and mother desire and think/know language about either the child or the other (see Table 9 note). child’s. referent type. p .11 À. summarized in Table 8. whereas mother talk about others’ desires correlated 2 out of 5 times (for summaries see Table 8 and Taumoepeau & Ruffman. Time 3) Â 3 (referent: child. Between Time 1 and Time 3. Table 9 includes partial correlation analyses accounting for any shared variance with SES. Previously.17 . We conducted six one-way analyses of variance to explore the interaction between Times 1 and 3 mother mental state talk. Mother referent and child social understanding.37** .05.13 .04 Desire .34** .03 . p .15 .11 À. 66) 5 56.38. and Child Talk About Mental States 295 Table 6 Partial Correlations Between Mothers’ Mental State Talk at Time 2 and Child Mental State Language (MCDI) and Emotion Task Performance at Time 3 Child task performance at Time 3 Emotion situation .11 Child MCDI language at Time 3 Time 2 mother talk Desire Emotion Think/know Modulations of assertions Other mental state Descriptions Links Body parts Physical state Animals Mother self-repetition Emotion .13 . and the child’s thoughts and knowledge (all ps .01 (all significance tests are one tailed). 68) 5 108. only references to the mother’s thoughts and knowledge.15 . mothers’ thoughts and knowledge. 68) 5 59. p .001 (see Figure 3).05 À.18 . was for mother talk about others’ thoughts and knowledge at Time 2 to be the most consistent correlate of children’s later mental state talk at Time 3 (3 out of 6 times).10.05 . there was a significant decrease in references to the child’s desires. and time. mother performance on emotion tasks.03 À.13 À.07 .14 .01 .01 À. Between Times 1 and 3.23* .08 Body emotion .02 .05 . Our previous analyses had shown that mothers significantly decreased their references to the child’s desires between Times 1 and 2 but increased their references to the child’s knowledge and thinking threefold.001.15 Total mental state . References to emotion were not analyzed into separate referent categories as the vast majority of emotion terms referred to the emotions depicted in the picture books. 2006).17 .10 . mental state type. other) Â 2 (mental state type: desire.01 . and the child’s thoughts and knowledge increased significantly (both ps . p . We analyzed the individual mental state terms separated by referent using a 3 (time: Time 1.18 .02 .01 À.07 À. .10 Think/know .14 . . and an increase in references to others’ desires.001.86.30* . 69) 5 20.05 À. or the depicted character’s mental states (see Table 3 for descriptive statistics). The present analysis examined the relation between mother references to the child versus others and children’s later social understanding.16 .02 . there were few significant correlations so we examined Times 2 and 3. mother performance on emotion recognition tasks and all child language including MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (MCDI) and Reynell Developmental Language Scales III scores at Time 2. . total child language at Time 2.Mother.00 À. *p . think/know) repeated measures analysis of variance. There were four significant effects: a main effect of time.29* À. .

03 . mother performance on emotion tasks. 82% of children were reported to use at least one first-person pronoun (see Table 2). After having accounted for mothers’ tendency to refer to her own mental states at Time 2. SES Step 2: Time 2 mother desire talk.05) over and above the child’s Time 2 language ability (see Table 10). SES. whereas the children’s general language did not contribute any further significant variance (see Table 10). Time 2 mother think/know talk Step 2: Time 2 mother desire talk Model C Step 1: All Time 2 child language.37 .71 ..67 . Child personal pronoun use at Time 2 accounted for an additional 5% of the variance in mother talk about own mental states at Time 3 (p . Time 2 mother desire talk. Time 2 mother emotion talk Step 2: Time 2 mother think/know talk Dependent variable 5 Child performance on emotion situation task at Time 3 Step 1: All Time 2 child language.09 . MCDI syntax score. SES.e. in the second step. we entered the number of Time 2 child first-person pronouns. We used hierarchical linear regression to examine whether child personal pronoun use (number of first-person pronouns) explained significant variance in mothers’ tendency to make references to their own mental states and whether this was true over and above the mothers’ own tendency to refer to themselves. and in the final step. SES. In the first step.19 1. mother performance on emotion tasks. and RDLS score). we entered mothers’ talk about their own mental states at Time 2. b 5 standardized regression coefficient. SES.01 .22 .18 . In a separate regression. children’s use of first-person pronouns at Time 2 seemed to affect mothers’ later language in that it was a unique correlate of mothers’ reference to others at Time 3. we entered all the Time 2 child language variables (MCDI total words. children’s personal pronouns at Time 2 contributed an additional 10% of the variance. and Mother Use of Mental State Language at Time 3 Variable Dependent variable 5 Child total mental state talk at Time 3 Model A Step 1: All Time 2 child language. we examined how the proportion of mother mental state terms changed over time.65 . Time 2 mother emotion talk.12 .35 . hypothesizing that think/know terms would increase relative to . mother think/know talk Model B Step 1: All Time 2 child language. First. In sum. Child Performance on the Emotion Situation Task.10* . mother performance on emotion tasks.38 .20 1. R2 5 proportion of variance explained by variable. mother performance on emotion tasks.11* .45 .22 .47 . as well as the child’s general language ability (see Table 10). .47 .05 (all significance tests are two tailed). DR2 5 change in proportion of variance explained by a variable (i. Time 2 mother desire talk. Discussion The purpose of this study was to examine four hypotheses related to mother and infant talk about mental states and the zone of proximal development. .87 . mother performance on emotion task. additional variance explained by a variable).38 2. mother emotion talk.296 Taumoepeau and Ruffman Table 7 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Statistics Predicting Child Mental and Nonmental State Language at Time 3. *p . Time 2 mother think/know talk Step 2: Time 2 mother emotion talk Model D Step 1: All Time 2 child language. MCDI 5 MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory.02 .67 .07 0.01 . Time 2 child performance on emotion situation task Step 2: Time 2 mother think/know talk Dependent variable 5 Mother think/know talk at Time 3 Step 1: Time 2 mother think/know talk Step 2: Time 2 child MCDI total mental state language b t R2 and DR2 pr . Role of Personal Pronouns At Time 2. unlike any other type of child language. we examined whether the child’s general language ability would still account for significant independent variance after accounting for the child’s personal pronoun use.09 Note.

e . but again consistent with our study.04c.c . cAlso accounting for mother talk about her own thoughts/knowledge. we argued that references to the child’s mental states are initially more important but that references to others’ mental states become more important with age. Infant. MCDI 5 McArthur Communicative Development Inventories.e À. As expected. socioeconomic status. Our first goal was to assess the change in the proportion of mother talk about specific mental state a Total of five child mental state language and emotion task measures.e .e 0b.39e** Body emotion . Brown and Dunn Table 9 Partial Correlations Between Mother References to Child Versus Others’ Desires and Thoughts/Knowledge at Time 2 and Later Child MCDI Mental State Language and Performance on Emotion Taska Child mental state language and emotion understanding at Time 3 Time 2 mother talk about: Others’ desires Mother desires Other + mother desires Child’s desires Other think/know Mother think/know Other + mother think/know Child think/know Emotion .b À.e .05 .c.c .c.03c Think/know .31**b.02d . and Child Talk About Mental States 6 Think/Know Child Think/Know Self Think/Know Other Desire Child 4 3 2 1 0 Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Desire Self Desire Other 297 Percentage of Utterances 5 Table 8 Number of Significant Partial Correlations Between the Referent of Mother Mental State Language and Later Child Mental State Language and Emotion Understanding 15 – 24 monthsa Mother desire talk about: Child 4 Other 2 Mother 0 Mother + other 2 Mother think/know talk about: Child 0 Other 0 Mother 0 Mother + other 0 15 – 33 monthsb 24 – 33 monthsb 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1* 0 0 0 1 1 3 3 Figure 3.e . leading mothers to subsequently talk more about others. **p .33*b. Finally.e À.13b.22b. mother talk about thoughts and knowledge increased significantly between 15 and 33 months and 24 and 33 months.28*b.13c.c .11d .08 À.c .c .19b. Changes across time in the percentage of mother think/ know and desire talk separated by referent.21b À.10 .c . *Indicates a negative correlation. These findings are consistent with Brown and Dunn (1991). terms between 15.39**b .05b.c . dAlso accounting for mother talk about others’ thoughts/knowledge.c . On the other hand.20b. we argued that the incremental and differential exposure to mental state language— first desires. .05d .e. we proposed that children’s use of personal pronouns would indicate a developing understanding of self to mothers. eAlso accounting for mother talk about others’ desires.04 .03b. 24.07 À. .e .13 .e Desire . and 33 months. a All partial correlations account for all child talk at Time 2.c .11b.33**.13d .19b .04 .13d 0d Note.07b.27*b.03 .18b.e Emotion situation .c .c . and mother performance on emotion tasks. there was a general reduction in mother desire and emotion talk relative to other types of mother mental state talk). then knowledge and thinking—during a child’s early years may reflect a zone of proximal development in which maternal talk about one type of early emerging mental state (such as desires) may assist in children’s understanding of other types of mental states as well as mental life in general. . desire terms. mother talk about desires and emotions remained relatively stable between 15 and 33 months (i. In contrast..c . who found that mother talk about desire and emotions was also stable between 24 and 36 months.13 . Third.e .39**b.c.15d .27* . bTotal of six child mental state language and emotion task measures.20b.01 (all significance tests are one tailed).19b. bAlso accounting for mother talk about child’s thoughts/knowledge.16b.Mother. *p .11 Total mental state .12b. Second.19b.05.e .10b.15b.

making desires very important to them. ‘‘You like ice-cream. Goal understanding is hypothesized to be one of the first steps toward understanding mental states (Phillips.40 .35* use at Time 2 Model B Step 1: Mother talk about herself . Talk about the child.01 (all significance tests are two tailed).g. Because mental states are primarily internal experiences.50* Step 3: Child first-person pronoun .10 .. tell-tale facial expressions and actions make infants’ desires salient and thus easier for mothers to infer than infants’ knowledge or beliefs (Bretherton & Beeghly. b 5 standardized regression coefficient. child talk about mental states did not correlate with later mother talk about mental states. These changes in what type of mother talk is important—first desire talk about the child.e. Although mother talk mirrored a similar lag in the use of desire and emotion talk before think/know talk. as opposed to others. Third.40 . found that mother talk about ‘‘mental states’’ (which included talk about thoughts and knowledge. Second.05 .. Our findings regarding the referent of mother talk can be viewed within a similar theoretical context.32 3. Therefore. then think/know talk about others—are crucial to understanding the specifics of how mothers help children. DR2 5 change in proportion of variance explained by a variable (i. 2001) and thus could be an important indicator of the child’s zone of proximal development for mental states.298 Taumoepeau and Ruffman Table 10 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Statistics Predicting Mother References to Self at Time 3 Variable b t R2 and DR2 Dependent variable 5 Mother talk about herself at Time 3 Model A Step 1: Mother talk about herself . mother talk about desires initially might be related to satisfying the immediate goals and actions of the child (e.05. and thoughts/knowledge at 24 months were all predictors of a child’s later social understanding at 33 months. Critically. and by providing converging evidence within a different parent – child context (picture description). Woodward et al. *p . mothers talked about mental states even when children were not reported to be using these terms.40** at Time 2 Step 2: All child language at Time 2 . (2002) and Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006). 1982).g. by extending the analysis of the trend in mother mental state talk to incorporate a younger group of children (15 as opposed to 24 months).. the percentage of children who were reported to use at least one word referring to general mental states steadily increased.63 6. R2 5 proportion of variance explained by variable. with think/know talk being a more consistent predictor (four of six correlations) than emotion or desire talk (two of six correlations). which the child has direct experience of. mothers may attempt to focus on desires because they detect that children ‘‘understand’’ goals (either as relations to objects or mentalistically). First.63 6. . Thus. These correlations held even after accounting for variance due to earlier child language. there was a very marked increase in the percentage of children who were reported to use these terms at 33 months relative to 24 months. don’t you?’’). MCDI 5 MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory.00 Note.. desires. Our study extends Brown and Dunn’s findings by examining 74 participants (as opposed to 6).29 2. we found that mother talk about emotions. suggest that it is what mothers say which drives children’s later mental state talk. the present findings. . Our second goal was to examine how mother talk related to children’s later social understanding. These findings extend our previous study in which we found that only mother talk about desire at 15 months was a predictor of children’s mental state language and emotion situation understanding at 24 months. along with those of Ruffman et al.37 . and other mental states) increased significantly between 24 and 33 months. Importantly. it makes . Wellman. & Spelke.. ‘‘You want to look at the doggy?’’). internal experiences.40** at Time 2 Step 2: Child first-person pronoun . enables the child to connect mental state words (e. and in the case of think/know talk. but not the reverse. 2002. mother SES.24 2. What we find just 9 months later with the same group of children and the same measure of mother and child language is that mother talk about thoughts and knowledge (at 24 months of age) emerges as a more consistent predictor of social understanding at 33 months. In the introduction. and mothers’ own emotion understanding. we highlighted several reasons why mother talk about desires would be more plentiful and influential when children were younger. Again.51** use at Time 2 Step 3: All child language at Time 2 . additional variance explained by a variable). We also found that between 15 and 33 months.05 0. as well as commenting more generally on the child’s desires (e. ‘‘want’’) with their own salient. modulations of assertions. young children’s lives are marked by constant attempts to satisfy their desires.g.06 . **p . these findings are consistent with most previous research (see above).

Mothers’ talk about the child’s desires at Time 1 is only important for Time 2 but not Time 3 child understanding. Although we did not explicitly code for the appropriateness of mothers’ comments.. our study combined with that of Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006) provides unique insights into the specifics of mother input that are likely to be helpful.. and intentions. or child talk vs. Through the very process of information exchange. The change from mothers talking about desires to talking about thoughts and knowledge might be signaled by children’s increased talk about desires around 24 months indicating a degree of mastery (see Taumoepeau & Ruffman. 2006). This talk. That is. our findings indicate that the change from mothers talking about the child to talking about others might be signaled. Yet. the context of the picture task constrained mothers’ comments such that it would be difficult to misinterpret a child’s desires (e. suggesting an emerging or consolidating knowledge of self that would spur mothers to up the ante by talking about others. our previous study incorporating the first two time points of this study (Taumoepeau & Ruffman. included all accurate comments about the infants’ independent mental states. desire talk vs. 2004).. and in the present study. to look at a particular picture).. 3. she will need to learn about others’ states to which she has no privileged access.e. Time 3 understanding hinges more on mothers’ talk about thoughts and knowledge (particularly about mothers’ own thoughts and knowledge). they begin to engage in conversation solely for the purpose of exchanging information and become aware of people as differing in knowledge and beliefs. children’s language and theory of mind insights are relatively well established which might make issues of mother timing (e. Mothers need to adjust their talk accordingly to be beneficial to the child. The effects of a particular type of mother mental state talk might often be relatively short lived because of children’s increasing knowledge levels and the need for mothers to pitch their talk at an appropriate level..to 4-year-old) children might have longer term effects (Ruffman et al. It seems likely that mothers’ increased talk about others’ desires. in part. Meins and colleagues (Meins et al. around age 2.Mother. Infant. thoughts and knowledge at 24 months of age (a time when children have begun to refer to their own desires). emotions. In the present study. Harris (1996) proposed that a child’s growing competence as a conversationalist helps them to understand thoughts and knowledge. providing labels such as ‘‘want’’ and ‘‘like’’ for the child’s mental states) but also will often simply entail a plan of action for satisfying the child’s desires. Our findings might also help explain the lack of a relation between mother talk about mental states at Time 1 and later child social understanding at Time 3. In contrast. 2005b) argued that children initially conceive of others as agents who want to achieve certain goals. Furthermore. or reaching).g. once the child has become accustomed to learning that mental state labels apply to internal states and to having her own mental states discussed. both shifts the playing field for the child by compelling them to learn something new.g. Meins et al. Nevertheless. which related to children’s false belief understanding 4-years later. we demonstrated that mother talk about others’ thoughts and knowledge becomes increasingly important later in the same children’s development.e. For instance. Harris.. 2006) showed that mother talk about children’s desires with 15-month-olds was related to their later understanding of mental states. it is not clear whether Meins and colleagues’ findings are more reflective of mother sensitivity or mother talk. 2003) coded mother talk in a free play situation for appropriate references to the child as an independent being when the child was 6 months of age. A crucial question is what signals mothers to change their way of talking to the child.. conversation affords immediate insight into how others’ attitudes toward a state of affairs sometimes differ from one’s own.g. and possibly places a new emphasis on the way conversation can be viewed (i. talk about others) less crucial. Later. 2002) because unlike the children studied in Taumoepeau and Ruffman (2006). 1996. by children’s increased use of personal pronouns at this age (Lewis & Ramsay. 2002. and Child Talk About Mental States 299 sense to talk about the child rather than others (who only provide observable behaviors such as smiling. mother talk about others’ thoughts and knowledge would more likely involve an exchange of information independent of any plan of action. It may be that mother talk about mental states with older (e. 2005b). mother talk about the child’s desires might involve something of an exchange of information (i. Although previous studies have shown simply that mother talk is important. Mother talk about thoughts and knowledge at this stage may therefore assist in developing conversational competence as well as highlighting differing attitudes toward events in the world. as the exchange of information. To summarize. Longer term effects of mother talk about mental states found in other studies can possibly be explained by differences in coding or children’s age.. frowning. think/know talk. We propose that more knowledgeable conversational partners such as parents consciously or unconsciously control children’s exposure to mental state language and that . Harris (1996.

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sadness Happiness. A girl sitting with her head in her hands Correct answer Emotion pictures Happiness Fear Happiness Sadness Sadness Happiness Happiness Sadness Happiness. Lion chasing boy 3. happiness Happiness. A man sitting with head in hands 2.302 Taumoepeau and Ruffman Appendix Time 3 Emotion Tasks Task and vignette Emotion situation task 1. sadness Happiness. Santa giving child a present 2. sadness Happiness. anger Happiness. surprise Sadness. holding a woman’s hand 3. in the sea with a man 4. A boy and his teddy bear with a broken leg Body emotion task 1. A woman with her arms in the air. Girl cuddling a puppy 4. sadness . fear Happiness. A man jumping in air.