A Systematic Review of Theory of Mind’s Precursors and Functions

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Abstract

We conducted a systematic review of longitudinal theory of mind (ToM) studies, focusing on the precursors to and functional outcomes of ToM in typically-developing samples. Our search yielded 87 longitudinal studies, all of which involved children and adolescents. Early attention skills, executive function development, and the use of language are precursors to ToM development. Additionally, quality interaction with parents and older siblings can foster early improvements in ToM. Healthy ToM development improves social relationships with peers and produces greater desire to engage in prosocial behaviors. However, victimized individuals with highly-developed ToM may engage in increased aggression. Future longitudinal research is needed to investigate the functional outcomes resulting from ToM changes in adulthood.

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