How Specific is the Relation between Executive Function and Theory of Mind? Contributions of Inhibitory Control and Working Memory

Stephanie M. Carlson, Louis J. Moses, Casey Breton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

506 Scopus citations

Abstract

The relation between executive function (EF) and theory of mind (ToM) may involve specific processes of inhibition and/or working memory capacity contributing to ToM, or it might be a reflection of general intellectual ability. To differentiate these alternatives, we administered task batteries measuring inhibitory control (IC), working memory, and ToM, as well as measures of verbal and performance intelligence, to 47 typically developing preschool children. Inhibitory control tasks in which a dominant response needed to be suppressed while a subdominant response was activated (Conflict IC) significantly predicted performance on false belief tasks over and above working memory, the intelligence measures, a simple delay task (Delay IC), and age. In contrast, working memory, Delay IC, and intelligence were not significant in this analysis. Conflict IC, but not Delay IC, was related to working memory. Together, these findings suggest that the combination of inhibition and working memory (as reflected in Conflict IC tasks) may be central to the relation between EF and false belief understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalInfant and Child Development
Volume11
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Executive function
  • Inhibitory control
  • Theory of mind

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