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Executive Function & Theory of Mind

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  1. Executive Function & Theory of Mind Meg Barrow October 14, 2010

  2. What is executive function? • General term for higher cognitive functions that allow flexible thought & behavior • Includes self-control, inhibition, working memory • Marshmallow study (Mischel, 1989) • Have one now, wait and get two

  3. What is Theory of Mind? • Ideas from Baillargeon, 2010 • Definition? • When does it develop?

  4. What is Theory of Mind? • Ability to think about other people and understand how other people see the world, even if that is different from the way you see it • Traditionally/originally tested with elicited-response task, children able to pass around age 4, recent studies have shown much younger children (15 months) pass spontaneous-response task -Onishi, 2005

  5. Relationship between Executive Function & Theory of Mind? • Does it exist? • Logically • Theory of mind tasks require inhibition of personal knowledge of the world in order to understand how someone else sees the world

  6. Relationship between Executive Function & Theory of Mind? • Empirically: • Carlson & Moses, 2001 • Study showed significant relationship between performance on inhibition tasks & theory of mind tasks in 3- and 4-year-olds

  7. Relationship between Executive Function & Theory of Mind? • Is executive function a resource that gets used up? • Baumeister, 1998 • Study showed executive function depletion in adults through “self-regulation” task – subjects who ate radishes instead of cookies didn’t try to solve impossible puzzles for as long

  8. Relationship between Execuive Function & Theory of Mind? So, depleting executive function in 5-year-olds should cause them to perform worse on theory of mind tasks.

  9. Previous study with 5 year olds • Depleted executive function by having kids wait in room with a box of toys for 5 minutes • Followed by 3 stories, 2 false belief, one control • False belief story: two characters, character 1 hides object then leaves, character 2 moves object, ask child to point to where character 1 will look for the object when he returns • Measure distance from where child points to where correct answer is (where character 1 left the object)

  10. Results • Significant difference between depletion & control kids • Kids whose executive function was depleted did significantly worse on theory of mind tasks, implying relationship between EF and theory of mind

  11. Results

  12. Results

  13. So, how does this theory of mind develop? Is it present at a young age? If so, is it the same as the theory of mind seen in older children/adults?Does it change over time?

  14. Current study with 18 month olds • Study to see if there is a correlation between executive function and theory of mind capabilities • 3 executive function tasks • 3 theory of mind tasks • See if there is a relationship between abilities on EF & ToM

  15. Executive Function Tasks • Working Memory Task • Hide one object in each of three different containers, child can look in one each time, experimenter changes them around behind a curtain after each trial, see how many times it takes them to find them all

  16. Inhibition (Waiting) Task • Waiting • Block causes jingle box to make noise • Make child wait to get block from under cup for 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds • A not B • Repetitively hide object one place, then switch it, see where they search for it

  17. Theory of Mind tasks-Onishi • Onishi • Looking time • Object moves from one box to another without actor knowing, measure looking times for where the actor reaches when she returns (expected vs. unexpected)

  18. Theory of Mind Tasks - Southgate Southgate Experimenter 1 hides an unnamed object in each of two boxes, leaves, experimenter 2 comes from behind curtain and switches the objects, experimenter 1 comes back, points to a box and asks child to get the “sefo,” see if child goes to other box

  19. Thoery of Mind Tasks - Buttleman Buttleman Experimenter 1 explores boxes, leaves, Experimenter 2 shows how boxes lock, Experimenter 1 returns with toy, hides toy, leaves, Experimenter 2 switches toys & locks boxes, Experimenter 1 comes back, tries to open box where she left toy, it’s locked, ask child to help, see which box they go to

  20. Currently • Right now we’re piloting the Buttleman & Onishi ToM tasks • Having trouble getting 18 month olds to actually help in Buttleman task • Modified looking time task so each subject sees unexpected and expected trials

  21. Discussion • If there is a correlation between executive function and theory of mind in 18-month-olds, what does that suggest about the development of theory of mind?

  22. Implications