Willing and able? Theory of mind, social motivation and social competence in middle childhood and early adolescence

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This study investigated the links between theory of mind, social motivation and children’s social competence in middle childhood and early adolescence. Two hundred and sixty four children (136 girls, 128 boys) aged between 8 and 13 years (M Age = 10.88 years, SD = 1.45) completed theory-of-mind tests and self-report questionnaires measuring social motivation. Teachers rated children’s social competence at school. Teacher-rated social competence was associated with individual differences in both theory of mind and children’s motivation to develop and maintain social relationships. Results suggest that while individual differences in social motivation and theory of mind are partially overlapping, both theory-of-mind ability and social motivation contribute to successful social interaction at school.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13137
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental Science
Early online date7 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2021


  • theory of mind (ToM), Social motivation, Social competence, Middle childhood, adolescence, Individual differences