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Deaf children's use of clear visual cues in mindreading

Research in Developmental Disabilities
DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2014.07.034
  • Deaf Children
  • Theory Of Mind
  • False Belief
  • Visual Cues


Abstract Previous studies show that typically developing 4-year old children can understand other people's false beliefs but that deaf children of hearing families have difficulty in understanding false beliefs until the age of approximately 13. Because false beliefs are implicit mental states that are not expressed through clear visual cues in standard false belief tasks, the present study examines the hypothesis that the deaf children's developmental delay in understanding false beliefs may reflect their difficulty in understanding a spectrum of mental states that are not expressed through clear visual cues. Nine- to 13-year-old deaf children of hearing families and 4–6-year-old typically developing children completed false belief tasks and emotion recognition tasks under different cue conditions. The results indicated that after controlling for the effect of the children's language abilities, the deaf children inferred other people's false beliefs as accurately as the typically developing children when other people's false beliefs were clearly expressed through their eye-gaze direction. However, the deaf children performed worse than the typically developing children when asked to infer false beliefs with ambiguous or no eye-gaze cues. Moreover, the deaf children were capable of recognizing other people's emotions that were clearly conveyed by their facial or body expressions. The results suggest that although theory-based or simulation-based mental state understanding is typical of hearing children's theory of mind mechanism, for deaf children of hearing families, clear cue-based mental state understanding may be their specific theory of mind mechanism.

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