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Talk and Children's Understanding of Mind

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Research has demonstrated that language is important for the development of an everyday understanding of mind. The Theory of Mind (ToM) framework is the dominant conception of what and how children develop in coming to understand mind. As such, much current thinking in developmental psychology about the way language makes a difference to the development of mentalistic understanding is tainted by certain deeply entrenched philosophical assumptions. Following an examination of views of language and mind that continue to frame, if only tacitly, the ToM tradition, we offer an alternative con-ception of the nature of mental state concepts and how language-based engagements between children and care-givers introduce an understanding of such concepts. Based on that alternative conception of language and mind we propose that parent-child discussion about situations involving minds facilitate the child's development of an understanding of mind. We attempt to demonstrate that the development of the foundational skills necessary for understanding the meaning of psychological terms through such conversation make the construction and appreciation of narratives possible, deepening and extending the child's mentalistic understanding. We then review three studies of parent-child talk about situations involving mind that offer empirical support for the claim that such talk is an important context for developing an understanding of aspects of human activity that involve reasons for action, emotion and belief. We conclude by describing the situated and sequential nature of meaning that our view of language and mind entails.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, 8888 University Ave, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC Canada V5A 1S6., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 January 2009

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