False belief understanding in children with specific language impairment

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Children's understanding that people's beliefs may differ from reality is an important milestone in cognitive development. Yet the tasks usually used to assess this understanding rely on the comprehension of complex syntax. Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have language abilities that are below age expectations, but their nonlinguistic cognitive abilities - crucial to false belief understanding - are closer to age level. Four conditions of a standard false belief task were administered to 10 children with SLI, 10 children of the same age, and 9 younger children whose language comprehension ability was similar to the children with SLI. The four conditions varied as to their linguistic complexity. The SLI group performed similarly to same-age peers when linguistic complexity was low, but similarly to younger children when linguistic complexity was high. These findings provide evidence that linguistic competence serves as a limiting factor in false belief performance for children with SLI. Educational objectives: Readers will be able to (1) describe different hypotheses regarding the relationship between language and theory of mind development, (2) discuss how linguistic complexity impacts false belief performance for children with SLI, and (3) apply the language/theory of mind relationship when planning intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-86
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Communication Disorders
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing
  • LPN and LVN


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