Executive function and theory of mind: Predictive relations from ages 2 to 4

Dev Psychol. 2007 Nov;43(6):1447-59. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1447.


Despite robust associations between children's theory of mind (ToM) and executive function (EF) skills, longitudinal studies examining this association remain scarce. In a socially diverse sample of 122 children (seen at ages 2, 3, and 4), this study examined (a) developmental stability of associations between ToM, EF, verbal ability, and social disadvantage; (b) continuity and change in ToM and EF; and (c) predictive relations between ToM and EF. Verbal ability and social disadvantage independently predicted changes in EF (but not ToM). Task scores improved with age and showed stable individual differences. The authors examined predictive relations between ToM and EF using partial correlations (controlling for age and verbal ability) and hierarchical regressions (that also controlled for social disadvantage and initial ToM and EF). The findings provide only partial support for the view that ToM is a prerequisite for EF but stronger support for the proposal that EF facilitates children's performance on ToM tasks.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Leadership*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychological Tests
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Speech*
  • Thinking / physiology*