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Interdisciplinaria

versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027

Resumen

PADILLA-MORA, Michael; RODRIGUEZ-VILLAGRA, Odir  y  FORNAGUERA-TRIAS, Jaime. Interactions between false-belief understanding and verbal ability development: Sex differences in preschool children. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2009, vol.26, n.2, pp. 317-344. ISSN 1668-7027.

The purpose of this article is to analyze some developmental interactions between cognitive processes during the preschool period. In specific, we are interested in the interactions between verbal ability and false-belief understanding. The research explores the performance of boys and girls in the execution of false-belief tasks, and evaluates the possible influence of verbal ability development on the sex differences in the falsebelief scores. In recent times, the emphasis on the sex differences in this dimension of social cognition has been an important issue stemming from the results of current lines of research. The present work is divided in two studies. The Study 1 compares the false-belief understanding and verbal ability of 17 five-year-olds Costa Rican boys and 17 five-year-olds Costa Rican girls, with the false-belief understanding and verbal ability of 17 six-year-olds Costa Rican boys and 17 six-year-olds Costa Rican girls. The main interest of this first study is focused on the identification of interactions between the cognitive processes of the participants. Sub sequently, in Study 2, the same five-year-olds that participated in Study 1 were reevaluated through the same measures after a period of 3 months. The goal of this second study was to follow up the tendencies evidenced in the previous study, after a brief period of time. As an attempt to capture specific details in the development of these processes and given the recommendations of previous works, an interval of 3 months between measures was used here for the first time in the context of this line of research. All the participants were students from a public preschool in the capital city of Costa Rica and native speakers of the Spanish language. Additional inclusion criteria take into account the absence of developmental disorders and other antecedents of psychiatric / psychological intervention. The assessment of false- belief understanding was through a battery that includes four different false-belief tasks. This battery was conformed by 3 first order false-belief tasks, and one second order false-belief task. For the assessment of verbal ability, the study includes 4 subtests (Information, Arithmetic, Vocabulary, and Comprehension) from the WPPSI-III Verbal Ability Scale. The results of the Study 1 evidenced that the six-year-olds girls had significantly higher scores than the five-year-olds girls, both in verbal ability and in false-belief understanding. Interestingly, the improvements in both abilities were mutually dependent. In contrast, the scores at the same variables showed a small but not significant improvement between five and six-year-olds boys. In Study 2, our results confirm these sex differences through the reassessment of the same five-year-olds, and verify that the improvements in both abilities are mutually dependent. The main results of both studies highlights important sex differences in the cognitive development of preschool children. In both studies the false-belief understanding and verbal ability improve significantly in girls but not in boys. The implications of our data are discussed in the context of the actual debate about the interaction between verbal ability and theory of mind during the preschool years. The possible influences of different socialization processes associated with a particular gender are discussed, as well as other tentative mediating factors like the empathic abilities or the influence produced by the context of different daily play scenarios among boys and girls. Research limitations like the particular period of assessment between measures in the Study 2 or the necessity of more tasks for each construct are also discussed. Finally, tentative mechanisms that could account for our data are considered.

Palabras llave : Longitudinal study; False-belief; Theory of mind; Verbal ability; Cognitive development; Preschool.

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