Personal narrative as a “breeding ground” for higher-order thinking talk in early parent–child interactions.

Rebecca R. Frausel, Lindsey E. Richland, Susan C. Levine, Susan Goldin-Meadow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Personal narrative is decontextualized talk where individuals recount stories of personal experience about past or future events. As an everyday discursive speech type, narrative potentially invites parents and children to explicitly link together, generalize from, and make inferences about representations—that is, to engage in higher-order thinking talk (HOTT). Here we ask whether narratives in early parent–child interactions include proportionally more HOTT than other forms of everyday home language. Sixty-four children (31 girls; 36 White, 14 Black, 8 Hispanic, 6 mixed/other race) and their primary caregiver(s), (Mincome = $61,000) were recorded in 90-minute spontaneous home interactions every 4 months from 14–58 months. Speech was transcribed and coded for narrative and HOTT. We found that parents at all visits and children after 38 months used more HOTT in narrative than non-narrative, and more HOTT than expected by chance. At 38 and 50 months, we examined HOTT in a related but distinct form of decontextualized talk—pretend, or talk during imaginary episodes of interaction—as a control to test whether other forms of decontextualized talk also relate to HOTT. While pretend contained more HOTT than other (non-narrative/non-pretend) talk, it generally contained less HOTT than narrative. Additionally, unlike HOTT during narrative, the amount of HOTT during pretend did not exceed the amount expected by chance, suggesting narrative serves as a particularly rich “breeding ground” for HOTT in parent–child interactions. These findings provide insight into the nature of narrative discourse, and suggest narrative potentially may be used as a lever to increase children’s higher-order thinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-534
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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