Theory of Mind Development in Chinese Children: A Meta-Analysis of False-Belief Understanding Across Cultures and Languages

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Theory of mind is claimed to develop universally among humans across cultures with vastly different folk psychologies. However, in the attempt to test and confirm a claim of universality, individual studies have been limited by small sample sizes, sample specificities, and an overwhelming focus on Anglo-European children. The current meta-analysis of children's false-belief performance provides the most comprehensive examination to date of theory-of-mind development in a population of non-Western children speaking non-Indo-European languages (i.e., Mandarin and Cantonese). The meta-analysis consisted of 196 Chinese conditions (127 from mainland China and 69 from Hong Kong), representing responses from more than 3,000 children, compared with 155 similar North American conditions (83 conditions from the United States and 72 conditions from Canada). The findings show parallel developmental trajectories of false-belief understanding for children in China and North America coupled with significant differences in the timing of development across communities—children's false-belief performance varied across different locales by as much as 2 or more years. These data support the importance of both universal trajectories and specific experiential factors in the development of theory of mind.

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