A longitudinal investigation into the relationship between early theory of mind and later listening and reading comprehension
: exploring broad metacognition and maternal mental state talk

  • Sophie Jackson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Recent research suggests that ToM facilitates both LC (Kim, 2017) and RC (Atkinson et al., 2017; Kim, 2017) but, until now, no study has examined this longitudinally using a large sample to test direct and indirect models, or asked what it is about the nature of ToM which is important for LC and RC development. This thesis used the DIET and DIER models of LC and RC (Kim, 2015; Kim, 2016; Kim, 2017) as theoretical framework and employed a longitudinal design whereby a sample of 204 children’s development in language, social and cognitive skills was tracked from age three to six years. Longitudinally DIET and DIER models were tested, and other non-social types of metacognition were included within the models to assess if the social nature of ToM is vital for LC and RC, or if the broad metacognitive nature is important. Lastly, the role of mental state talk as a facilitator of both ToM and LC was investigated to further address the question over why and how ToM helps LC.

Findings showed that a concurrent DIET model of LC fitted at six year olds, with ToM making a direct contribution to LC. Findings also showed that this model fitted well longitudinally for skills at the age of four predicting LC at the age of five with ToM again making a direct contribution. However, there was no evidence that ToM contributes to LC further across time. When comparing ToM to other forms of metacognition, findings suggested overall ToM was a slightly better predictor of LC than other forms of metacognition, as concurrently at the age of six and longitudinally across 12 months (from four years until five years) the fit of a DIET model including ToM rather than a broad metacognition latent variable, was better.

Regarding RC, both concurrently (aged six) and longitudinally (aged four to aged six) findings did not support past work that ToM directly predicts RC (Atkinson et al., 2017) as a DIET model of RC did not show ToM to make a direct contribution to RC. Instead concurrent findings aged six back-up a DIER model of RC in which ToM make an indirect contribution to RC. This however, was not supported longitudinally as ToM did not make an in-direct contribution to later RC (via LC). However, the model including ToM was a better fit when compared to one including broad metacognition which, as with LC, suggests that the social specificity of ToM is important for comprehension. When considering the home environment, findings showed that maternal mental state talk did not predict LC directly or indirectly (via ToM) either at four year old, five years old or longitudinally. These results were mirrored for children’s own mental state talk when measured through live conversations, however, when measured through mothers’ self-report of their child’s mental state talk, longitudinally only, an indirect effect of child mental state talk on LC via ToM was found. Overall, although findings were not consistent across time points; they add to the growing body of research that demonstrates that ToM is important for LC and RC in the early years and provide some partial evidence that this is because of the social specificity of ToM in that it can help with understanding social information within a story.
Date of Award13 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
Sponsors Roehampton VC Scholarship
SupervisorJoe Levy (Supervisor) & Samantha McCormick (Supervisor)


  • Theory of Mind
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Listening Comprehension
  • Metacognition
  • Longitudinal
  • Mental State Talk

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