Children of Another Mind

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The findings suggest that the right TPJ becomes more specific to theory of mind as children age, taking on adult patterns of activity over time.

Changing mindset about minds

The classic test for theory of mind is the false-belief test, sometimes called the Sally-Anne test. Experimenters often use dolls or puppets to perform a short skit: Sally takes a marble and hides it in her basket, then leaves the room.


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Anne then removes the marble and puts it in her own box. When Sally returns, the child watching the skit is asked: Where will Sally look for her marble? Children with well-developed theory of mind realize that Sally will look where she thinks the marble is: her own basket. Previous studies have shown that children start making accurate predictions in the false belief test around age 4 — but this happens much later, if ever, in autistic children.

Thinking about others is not child’s play

In this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI to look for a link between the development of theory of mind and changes in neural activity in the TPJ. They studied 20 children, ranging from 5 to 11 years old.

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Each child participated in two sets of experiments. First, the child was scanned in the MRI machine as he or she listened to different types of stories. The researchers measured activity across the brain as the children listened to different stories.

White matter maturation is associated with the emergence of Theory of Mind in early childhood

For the second task, done outside of the scanner, the researchers gave children tests similar to the classic Sally-Anne test, as well as harder questions that required making moral judgments, to measure their theory-of-mind abilities. Kristin Lagattuta, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, says the paper makes an important contribution to understanding how theory of mind develops in older children.

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In an ongoing study of autistic children undergoing the same type of tests, the researchers hope to learn more about the neural basis of the theory-of-mind impairments seen in autistic children. MIT News Office.

Theory of Mind and Triadic Eye Gaze

The classic test for theory of mind is the false-belief test, sometimes called the Sally-Anne test. Experimenters often use dolls or puppets to perform a short skit: Sally takes a marble and hides it in her basket, then leaves the room. Anne then removes the marble and puts it in her own box. When Sally returns, the child watching the skit is asked: Where will Sally look for her marble?

Children with well-developed theory of mind realize that Sally will look where she thinks the marble is: her own basket. Previous studies have shown that children start making accurate predictions in the false belief test around age 4 — but this happens much later, if ever, in autistic children.

In this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI to look for a link between the development of theory of mind and changes in neural activity in the TPJ.

They studied 20 children, ranging from 5 to 11 years old. Each child participated in two sets of experiments. First, the child was scanned in the MRI machine as he or she listened to different types of stories.

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The researchers measured activity across the brain as the children listened to different stories. For the second task, done outside of the scanner, the researchers gave children tests similar to the classic Sally-Anne test, as well as harder questions that required making moral judgments, to measure their theory-of-mind abilities. Kristin Lagattuta, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, says the paper makes an important contribution to understanding how theory of mind develops in older children.

In an ongoing study of autistic children undergoing the same type of tests, the researchers hope to learn more about the neural basis of the theory-of-mind impairments seen in autistic children. MIT News Office. Browse or.