March 7, 2016

Child Therapy: Development of Theory of Mind

Psychology dictionary” defines the Theory of Mind as “the capacity to imagine or form opinions about the cognitive states of other people: What does the other person know? What behavior is that person most probable to take?” Theory of Mind simply means the child is able to put themselves into someone else’s shoes.

Early stages

Studies have shown that children develop signs of Theory of Mind as early as 14 months. Here are some developing signs that the child is beginning to form a Theory of Mind:
  • Mimicking others.
  • Labeling other people’s emotions (sad, happy, mad).
  • Understanding people have different likes.
  • Anticipating the emotions of someone else. For example, if they take away another child’s toy 
the child will be upset.
  • They are able to imagine they are a different person (nurse, mommy, police) during pretend 
The Theory of Mind is fully developed around age 4. Once a child has a full Theory of Mind they are able to understand concepts of false belief and hidden feelings. False belief is understanding that people will act according to their beliefs not what is actually true. A study was conducted using a crayon box full of candles. When the instructor asked the child what was in the crayon box, they guessed crayons. Once the candles were exposed, the instructor asked the child what would another person guess was in the crayon box. If a child had not yet developed the concept of false belief they would say candles. If a child had developed false belief they would have said crayons since it is a crayon box. 
Once a child develops Theory of Mind, they are able to make decisions based on how they think other people will react. Children will start to show empathy to other students. They realize that people want different things than them and act differently to receive it. Eventually children will understand the idea of “hidden feelings”. They realize people can feel a different emotion from the one they are showing, which leads into the act of lying.

For more information of Theory of Mind refer to this Hanen Centre article. 


Lowry, Lauren. “”Tuning In” to Others: How Young Children Develop Theory of Mind.” Tuning In to Others: How Young Children Develop Theory of Mind. The Hanen Centre, n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

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