The relationship between vocabulary, joint attention and theory of mind in preschoolers
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Theory of Mind (ToM) is a widely assessed topic in research among preschoolers which represents the pivotal development to understand social interactions and communicate about mental states. It is thought that joint attentional interactions during infancy and vocabulary development support ToM, but these have rarely been investigated together during preschool age. This study therefore aimed to examine the importance of both language and joint attention for ToM in preschoolers. It was expected that better joint attention and vocabulary together as well as individually predict better ToM abilities. Consequently, the results can broaden knowledge on risk factors and protective factors for social cognitive development during early childhood. The sample consisted of 63 Dutch preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. They were assessed on their joint attentional abilities, their vocabulary and ToM skills through the use of the Early Sociocognitive Battery (ESB), the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III-NL) and the ToM-test. Results show that better joint attention and vocabulary jointly predict better ToM comprehension. However, further analysis reveals that only vocabulary comes forward as a significant predictor of ToM. No evidence was found for joint attention as a predictor for ToM. Possibly, the way joint attention as well as ToM were operationalized could have limited the results. In conclusion, acquiring vocabulary is an important development for ToM comprehension in preschoolers. Suggestions for future research regarding this topic are made.