Relations between theory of mind and executive function in middle childhood: A short-term longitudinal study

Serena Lecce*, Federica Bianco, Rory Devine, Claire Hughes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Studies with preschool children have shown significant links between children's executive function (EF) and theory of mind (ToM), but few studies have examined these associations in primary school children. To address this gap, we designed a three-wave cross-lagged longitudinal study in which we followed a group of 113 children (61 boys) across three time points from age 9.5–10.5 years (mean age at Time 1 = 112.3 months, SD = 4.18; mean age at Time 2 = 118.3 months, SD = 4.15; mean age at Time 3 = 124.7 months, SD = 4.06). At each time point, we measured EF (working memory and inhibitory control), ToM, and language. Our analyses showed (a) moderate rank-order stability of individual differences in both EF and ToM and (b) growth in ToM task performance across time. Cross-lagged longitudinal analyses revealed an asymmetric developmental relation between ToM and working memory. Early working memory predicted later ToM but not vice versa. Our results suggest a specific role for working memory in the ongoing development of ToM in middle childhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-86
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date26 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Executive function
  • Inhibitory control
  • Longitudinal Study
  • Middle childhood
  • Theory of mind
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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