Shared factors in autobiographical memory and theory of mind development
When humans use the mental states (e.g., beliefs, intentions) and the emotional states of others to predict or explain another person's behaviour, they have demonstrated their theory of mind understanding. Theory of mind is "one of the quintessential abilities that makes us human" (Baron-Cohen, 2000, p. 3). Emotion understanding has been considered by some to be an aspect of theory of mind understanding. There are several theories proposed to explain the development of theory of mind, from changes in representational abilities (Pemer, 1991), to having an innate domain specific module (Fodor, 1992; Leslie, 1994), to social linguistic influences (Nelson et al., 2003). One facet of theory of mind understanding, understanding false belief, has been consistently found to develop at around 3 or 4 years of age (e.g., Wimmer & Pemer, 1983). Another cognitive ability that develops at the approximately the same time is that of autobiographical memory. Autobiographical memory has been defined as "memory for information and events pertaining to the self' (Howe & Courage, 1993, p. 306). There are also several theories explaining the onset of autobiographical memory. Two similar theories by Pemer (1991) and Welch-Ross (1995) proposed that until a child possesses dual representational abilities (or theory of mind), they cannot form autobiographical memories. Nelson (1993) and Fivush (2001) have both proposed that autobiographical memory is developed through shared narratives with more experienced others (e.g., parents). There are several factors that have been found to contribute to theory of mind, emotion understanding, and autobiographical memory. Language abilities have been related to all three cognitive abilities (e.g., Slade & Ruffman, 2005; Dunn & Cutting, 1999; Harley & Reese, 1999). Factors such as maternal talk, gender of the child, and the number of siblings the child has, have all been related to at least two of these abilities. In the current study, I addressed the relation between theory of mind understanding, emotion understanding, and autobiographical memory in three studies. The first study investigated the relations between language, theory of mind, emotion understanding, and mother-child talk about past events in 61 children at three 6-month intervals from 42- to 54- months of age. The second study also investigated these factors and the children's pretence in 59 children at 48- months of age. In the second study, the mother's theory of mind and emotion understanding were also measured. In the third study, I investigated the relations between theory of mind, emotion understanding and early memory recall in 73 adults, with an average age of 20 years. One key finding was that, despite theoretical predictions, there was no clear relation between theory of mind understanding and autobiographical memory in either children or adults. Results showed that theory of mind and emotion understanding are related but distinct abilities. The number of siblings, or the gender of the participants were not strongly related to theory of mind, autobiographical memory, or emotion understanding. Language abilities and maternal talk were the strongest factors related to the development of theory of mind, autobiographical memory and emotion understanding.
Advisor: Murachver, Tamar
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis