The Development of Executive Functioning and Theory of Mind. A Comparison of Chinese and U.S. Preschoolers

Psychol Sci. 2006 Jan;17(1):74-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01667.x.


Preschoolers' theory-of-mind development follows a similar age trajectory across many cultures. To determine whether these similarities are related to similar underlying ontogenetic processes, we examined whether the relation between theory of mind and executive function commonly found among U.S. preschoolers is also present among Chinese preschoolers. Preschoolers from Beijing, China (N= 109), were administered theory-of-mind and executive-functioning tasks, and their performance was compared with that of a previously studied sample of U.S. preschoolers (N= 107). The Chinese preschoolers outperformed their U.S. counterparts on all measures of executive functioning, but were not similarly advanced in theory-of-mind reasoning. Nonetheless, individual differences in executive functioning predicted theory of mind for children in both cultures. Thus, the relation between executive functioning and theory of mind is robust across two disparate cultures. These findings shed light on why executive functioning is important for theory-of-mind development.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • China
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Only Child / psychology
  • Personal Construct Theory*
  • Problem Solving*
  • United States