Language and theory of mind how early exposure to sign language
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Language and theory of mind: how early exposure to sign language impacts on deaf children’s metacognitive development and solving skills. Cyril Courtin & Anne-Marie Melot UMR 6095 – CNRS – CEA, Equipe développement et fonctionnement cognitifs, Universités de Caen et Paris V Theory of mind development is now an important research field in deaf studies. These studies are generally aimed at determining the role of language in developing cognitive representations. Past research with deaf children has consistently reported a delay in theory of mind development in deaf children born to hearing parents, while performances of second- generation deaf children are more problematic, with some contradictory results. That is, some authors have reported equal performances between second generation deaf children and hearing ones, while some other researchers (Courtin & Melot, 1998; Courtin, 2000…) have reported better performances in second generation deaf children compared to hearing ones on the false belief attribution task. The present study was aimed at exploring further this discrepancy, testing the metacognitive abilities of deaf children on two tasks, the appearance – reality task ( Flavell et al., 1983) and the classic false-belief task (Wimmer & Perner, 1983; Hogrefe, Wimmer & Perner, 1986). Twenty-eight second-generation deaf children, 60 deaf children of hearing parents and 36 hearing children, aged 5 to 7 year-old, have been tested and compared on 3 appearance-reality and 3 false-belief items. Results show that early exposure to language, be it signed or oral, facilitates performance on the two „Theory of Mind‟ tasks. Deaf children of hearing parents clearly lag behind hearing children. However, it does not seem that these groups of children develop in a way which differs from each other. That is, the metacognitive development of deaf children of hearing parents is delayed but follows the same pattern as the one of hearing children. The performance of second generation deaf children, who are native signers, equals this of hearing children in the appearance-reality task. But second generation deaf children outperform hearing ones on the false-belief task. This difference of performance pattern, which could reflect a difference in the way these two groups of children develop some theory of mind, is discussed in terms of linguistic and metarepresentational development. It is suggested that the apparent early success of second generation deaf children on the false- belief task may not be the proof of an earlier maturity in metacognitive development. Rather, this early success may result from the usage of some unusual solving skill processes in the false belief task by deaf children, native signers, processes which would be in straight relation with sign language syntactic features (e.g., “role taking”, Poulin & Miller, 1995). The discussion will be completed with some data collected from on-going work aimed at exploring further how early exposure to sign language leads to differences in success according to theory of mind tasks. References Courtin, C. (2000). The impact of sign language on the cognitive development of deaf children: the case of theories of mind. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 266-276. Courtin, C. & Melot, A;-M. (1998). Development of theories of mind in deaf children. In M. Marschark & M.D. Clark (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on deafness, Vol.2 (79-102). Mahwah, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Flavell, J.H., Flavell, E.R., & Green, F.L. (1983). Development of appearance-reality distinction. Cognitive Psychology, 15, 95-120. Hogrefe, G.J., Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1986). Ignorance versus false belief: A developmental lag in attribution of epistemic states. Child Development, 57, 567-582. Poulin, C., & Miller, C. (1995). On narrative discourse and point of view in Quebec Sign Language. In K. Emmorey, & J.S. Reilly (Eds.), Language, gesture, and space, (pp. 117- 131). Hillsdale, Lawrence Erlbaum. Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs : Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 103-128.