Theory of mind in emerging reading comprehension:Longitudinal evidence of indirect and early direct effects

Lynette Atkinson, Lance Slade, Daisy Powell, Joseph Levy

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The relation between children’s theory of mind (ToM) and emerging reading comprehension was investigated in a longitudinal study over 2.5 years. 80 children were tested for ToM, decoding, language skills and executive function (EF) at Time 1 (mean age = 3:10 years). At Time 2 (mean age = 6:03 years) children's word reading efficiency, language skills and reading comprehension were measured. Mediation analysis showed that ToM at Time 1, when children were around four years old, indirectly predicted Time 2 reading comprehension, when children were six years old, via language ability, after controlling for age, non-verbal ability, decoding, EF and earlier language ability. Importantly, ToM at four years old also directly predicted reading comprehension two and a half years later at six years. This is the first longitudinal study to show a direct contribution of theory of mind to reading comprehension in typical development. Findings are discussed in terms of the Simple View of Reading (SVR); ToM not only supports reading comprehension indirectly by facilitating language, but also directly contributes to it over and above the SVR. The potential role of metacognition is considered when accounting for the direct contribution of early ToM to later reading comprehension.

© 2017, published by Elsevier. The attached document (embargoed until 25/05/2018) is an author produced version of a paper, uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date25 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Theory of Mind; Reading Comprehension; Simple View of Reading; Metacognition; Longitudinal

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