Social interaction in early and middle childhood: the role of theory of mind

Serena Lecce, R.T. Devine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In this chapter we examine the cognitive basis of social interaction by assessing the claim that children’s ability to understand the minds of others (or ‘theory of mind’) matters for children’s successful social interactions. To this end, we critically examine available research on the relation between theory of mind (ToM) and social interaction during early and middle childhood both within and outside the family. We propose the Theory of Mind in Social Context framework that considers the processes through which ToM impacts on children’s social outcomes and the circumstances under which an association between ToM and social interaction should be apparent. We set an agenda for future research by emphasizing: (1) the mediating role of intentional social interaction behaviours in explaining the relations between ToM and social outcomes in early and middle childhood; and (2) the moderating role of partner-related variables (including familiarity, the nature and quality of the relationship, and the level of partner ToM ability) and of social context in strengthening or attenuating the relations between ToM and social interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cognitive Basis of Social Interaction Across the Lifespan
EditorsHeather Ferguson, Elisabeth Bradford
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9780192581334, 9780192581327
ISBN (Print)9780198843290
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


  • Theory of mind
  • Middle Childhood
  • Social competence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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