Cultural and Family Influences on Children's Theory of Mind Development

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    • 00:14

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN: Hello.My name is Ameneh Shahaeian and I am a research fellowat the Learning Sciences Institute Australiaat the Australian Catholic University.Today, I'm here to talk to you about an article I publishedwith my collaborators from the University of Queenslandand University of Melbourne in Australia.

    • 00:37

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: in the Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology from SAGE publisher.The article titled Knowledge and Belief UnderstandingAmong Iranian and Australian Children.So, as you can guess in the article,we have done a cross-cultural comparisonof children's, broadly speaking, theory of mind understanding,

    • 00:58

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: with a focus on knowledge and belief development.Before I go to the article, I wantto briefly talk about the importance of culturein understanding children's development and human behavior.If we want to understand what factors are influencing

    • 01:21

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: children's development and their behavior,we need to know two equally important groups of variables.One of them is social and environmental factors.We want to know whether our environment actually influenceschildren's behavior and development

    • 01:42

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: and also want to know which parts of developmentand which aspects of development are universal.Which aspects of development are,as we call it, genetics or the effect of the maturationof neurobiological systems.To know that, one way to get theoretical conclusions

    • 02:05

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: about that is to have an understandingof what factors of what developmental aspects areuniversal, and which aspects are culture-specific.But do we know that?Well, in an exhaustive review of the literature, Joseph Henreichand his colleagues-- they found out

    • 02:28

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: that 98% of the studies published in psychologyjournals are using samples from a minority percentageof the world's population.This is less than 2% of the world's population.These researchers called the sample WEIRD.

    • 02:50

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich,and Democratic countries.This is, in fact, mostly American undergraduatestudents.The majority of what we know so far about human behavioris from studying this small percentage of the world'spopulation.

    • 03:12

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So these researchers argue that if wewant to make a strong theoretical conclusionabout what factors influence behavior and development,we need to look at it from a wider social and cultural lens.And therefore, they call for research using samples

    • 03:32

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: from contrasting social environment.So our research.The topic of our research is theory of mind understanding.What is understanding theory of mind?For those of you who don't know, in our day-to-day interaction,

    • 03:56

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: we refer to people's behavior based on whatis going on in their mind.For example, if I just thought up and go outside this room,you start thinking, why did I leave the room?Maybe I was tired.Maybe I will sick.Maybe I wanted to get something from outside.

    • 04:18

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: This wanting to get something, this having emotionsare mental states.They don't exist outside.They are just in my mind.I want to go outside and get something.So our behavior is derived by some internal mental states.

    • 04:39

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: This is called theory of mind.The understanding that people's behavioris based on some internal mental states.So children come to the understandingthat people act based on what is going on in their mindsometime during their development.And also, in the developmental sequence

    • 05:03

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: to gain an understanding of others' minds,children need to consider people's mental states,such as emotions, beliefs, or desires.They also need to understand that peoplehave different mental states.So people might have different desires.One person like apples and one person dislike apples.

    • 05:26

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So this diversity between people's mental statesis another step that children need to gain.And also to understand that all others believeis different from their own beliefsso if it's a few decades that psychologists

    • 05:46

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: are trying to understand how childrencome to these theory of mind comprehension.Traditionally, theory of mind researchhas focused on one aspect of understanding others' minds,which is called false belief understanding.False belief refers to the fact that we

    • 06:09

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: can hold a belief that contradicts the reality.So for example, I may go to the fridge to get an applewhile there is no apple in the fridge,because I think there is an apple in the fridge.So I behave based on what I think,not what actually is out there.A very widely used scenario or paradigm of false belief

    • 06:33

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: is called Sally Ann task.In the Sally Ann task, a lady or adultcalled Sally comes to the room and shewants to put her bread or anything her marbleor her keys in a basket.So Sally comes in, she puts her marble in the basket,she covers it.

    • 06:54

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: She leaves the room.While Sally is not here and she doesn'thave access to this room anymore,another character comes in, and the charactermoves Sally's marble or bread from the basket to a box.So now we ask children where does Sally look for her bread

    • 07:15

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: or marble when she comes back?It's interesting that majority of three-year-oldsfail to acknowledge that Sally will look for her marblewhere she puts it, not where it is actually.So they say she will look for it in the box, which actually

    • 07:37

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: is, even though Sally doesn't knowthat the marble is in the box.Wen children get to the age of five,magically they start understandingthat Sally will look for her marblewhere she thinks it is, which is the place that she has put it.So in this very simple comprehension

    • 07:59

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: that she puts it there, therefore shewill look for it there, is quite a complex reasoning going on.The children need to understand that Sallyhas a knowledge about the location of this object.And this knowledge is gained from a source.What was the source?Well, Sally puts it there, so she saw it there.

    • 08:21

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: And therefore she thinks so she has made hold the belief nowthat the bread is in that location.So there's quite a reasoning going on,and what we're interested is to understand how children cometo this comprehension, to this justification

    • 08:43

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: that she puts it there this is her source of knowledge,and this is the she will look to find it.So her behavior is affected by that knowledge.While traditional research on theory of mindhas heavily focused on false beliefs tests,in the recent years, researchers has

    • 09:05

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: started arguing that theory of mindis broader than only false beliefs.So theory of mind is a multifaceted phenomenon.It's not limited to understanding others beliefs.As I just explained to you, in that false belief scenario,children first need to know that Sally has access to information

    • 09:30

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: so that's Sally's knowledge about the locationof the object.And how does she know?Well, she knows by putting it there,therefore she saw it there.So this looking and seeing is a source of information.So in recent and years Wellman and Liu,

    • 09:51

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: after a meta-analysis of the literature,they argue that to gain a comprehensive theory of mindunderstanding, children go through different steps.So the first step is diverse desires,which means understanding that different people havedifferent desires.

    • 10:12

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: Somebody likes something and somebodydislike the same thing.Then children come to understand diversitybetween people beliefs.So Sally might think the marble is in the basket,while we think the marble is in the box.Then it's knowledge access, which

    • 10:33

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: is the source of knowledge.How do we access to the knowledge that we have?So, for example, if we know about something,if we see its happening, and we don't know about itif you don't see it happening.Then false belief, as I explained,and then it comes understanding other people's emotions.So there is a task that Wellman and Liu

    • 10:56

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: included in a five-step scale that they developed.And that hidden emotions, which taps into peoplecan hide how they actually feel.So even though I'm smiling, in fact, I might be upset.In this scale, in the steps that children take towards passing

    • 11:17

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: all of these scale steps, it was interestingthat the researchers, Wellman and Liu,they found that majority of children in the United Statesgo through the same sequence.So they understand diverse desires first,then diverse beliefs then knowledge access, false belief,

    • 11:37

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: and hidden emotion.So the sequence has been approved for childrenin the United States.A majority of children pass the scale steps in this sequence.Their research in Australia also showsthat Australian children, similar to childrenin United States, go through the same sequence.

    • 11:58

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: Intriguingly, a researcher in Chinashowed that Chinese children go through a different sequenceto gain this understanding of mind.So they start by understanding diversity and desires.So diverse desire task is the first taskthat majority of children pass, but then Chinese children

    • 12:20

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: had a better understanding of knowledge accesscompared to diverse belief.Then it comes false belief and then hidden emotion.As you can see, in the picture, that the scale stepsof knowledge access and diverse beliefis reversed for Chinese children.Every research I did in Iran to see

    • 12:43

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: that the Iranian children go through any sequenceand if the sequence is similar to American childrenor to Chinese children, we found that, again,interestingly, Iranian children go through a similar sequenceto Chinese children.So therefore, they gain knowledge accessearlier than diverse belief.

    • 13:04

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: This is quite interesting, and wehave tried to explain this by the cultural differencesbetween China or Iran, which are widelyknown as collective cultures, and Australian and UnitedStates as individualistic cultures, which I will explainthis a little bit more later.

    • 13:25

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: But to give you an idea of the collective cultures,other cultures that the group gets priorityto the individual.So the group need and the group preferencesis more important than individual needs.Also in collective culture, thereis a great emphasis on wisdom and knowledge,

    • 13:48

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: respecting adults because of their knowledge.So they know better.Therefore people-- parents in collectivist cultures,they put a lot of emphasis for their children to learn thingsand to know about things.This is how we have explained these sequence differencethat Chinese and Iranian children understand knowledge

    • 14:10

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: access earlier than diversity of belief,which is an aspect of an individualistic culture.People respect their differences,people talk about their differences,so more then group giving the priority, individualgets the priority and therefore children are constantly asked,

    • 14:32

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: well what do you want?I don't want this.What do you think?I don't think so.OK.In this research that I want to talk today, in our publicationwe have another question.As I told you in this scale that we have looked at,

    • 14:53

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: there is only one task of knowledge accessand there is only one task of diverse belief.So that a curious whether these differencesare limited to that very only task of knowledgeaccess and diverse belief, or evenif you look at different elements of knowledgeacquisition these differences still exist.

    • 15:18

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So in this new research, we have looked at,we have included six tasks of knowledge acquisition.In these tasks of knowledge acquisition,we look at two aspects of knowledge acquisition.One of them is the source of knowledge.We want to know whether children know how knowledge is gained,

    • 15:38

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: and also when knowledge is gained.So when did children learn about something?In there, we have developed a storyand we told children-- and nobody wore it, for example--or we told children about something.Like we had a box and we had an object in the box.

    • 16:01

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: And then we told children when there's something in the book,we want to know what is in the box.Well, I can't open the box, but I can tell youwhat is in the box.There is a pen in the box.This is the situation, that this child's knowledgeis gained via me telling the child what is in the box.

    • 16:22

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: In another condition, we have looked in the box together.So we said, well, here is a box.Let's open and see what is in the box.So it's a looking condition.We're both looking inside the box.And in another condition, we have triedto figure it out from a clue.So we have three conditions of how knowledge is gained,which is we're looking inside it, I'm telling you about it,

    • 16:44

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: and we have figured it out from a clue.And we also have different conditionsabout knowing when the knowledge is gained.So we told children something new,like the name of a color that they didn't know,and then afterwards, we asked them,well, so when did you know this?Did you know this yesterday?Did you know this when you were very little, when

    • 17:05

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: you were a baby, or did you just learn it?We also have used different versions of diverse belieftasks.So from the original version, we have developedsome more culturally appropriate versions of diverse belieftasks, which I encourage you to read the paperto know the details of the tasks we have used.

    • 17:28

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So what is our result?Our results show that at the age of three,Iranian children are significantly betterthan Australian children in understandingtheir source of knowledge.So in all of these conditions-- looking conditions,told condition, and the clue condition,

    • 17:49

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: Iranian children are significantly betterthan Australian children in answering correctly.At four years, still they're doing a little bit better,but the difference is not significant.Also in the when did you learn tasks,again, Iranian children are significantly

    • 18:09

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: performing better than Australian childrenin acknowledging when they have learned a fact.So in these results, you can see the percentagesof children who have passed each task at each ageand for children from the two different cultures.

    • 18:31

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: And you can see that at three years old, for example,the look in condition, majority of Iranian childrenanswered correctly while only around halfof Australian children responded correctly to the task.It's interesting that when it comes to diverse belief,the picture is reversed now.

    • 18:52

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So in the diverse belief condition,Australian children are significantly doing betterthan Iranian children.So in all of our conditions of the three diverse belieftasks and also the board that showsall refers to children who have passed all three tasks.

    • 19:14

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So this is percentages of childrenwho have passed each of these tasks,but also all three tasks.And you can see at both ages, Australian childrenare at performing.And this table also shows the percentagesof children at different ages and for different countries whohave passed the diverse belief task.

    • 19:39

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: So the findings put together confirm our hypothesisthat Iranian children are better in acknowledgingpeople's source of knowledge and understandingwhen knowledge is gained.And to the contrary, they are notdoing as good as their Australian counterparts

    • 20:01

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: in understanding diversity of belief.So the conclusions are, as I talkedabout the collectivist vs. Individualistic cultural valuesand practices, we believe that Iranas a collectivist culture similarto some other collectivist cultures, such as China.

    • 20:26

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: In these countries, people put a lot of emphasison gaining knowledge and doing the right thing,but they don't put as much emphasison individual differences because, again, as I said,group gets the priority.Well, where to forward?

    • 20:51

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: This is only the result of findings from two cultures.What we would like to see is different peoplefrom different collectivist and individualistic cultures repeatthis study so that they can see if these results are actuallystrongly supported by the cultural differences.

    • 21:14

      AMENEH SHAHAEIAN [continued]: Well, thank you again, and I do have my e-mail address here.If you had any questions feel free, to send me an e-mailand feel free to visit the Learning Sciences InstituteAustralia website for more information about allof our interesting research.Thank you.

Cultural and Family Influences on Children's Theory of Mind Development

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Ameneh Shahaeian presents cross-cultural research on how Iranian and Australian children develop a theory of mind. Depending on cultural context, children undergo differently ordered steps to gain understanding of mind. Culture also affects how children understand knowledge acquisition.

Cultural and Family Influences on Children's Theory of Mind Development

Ameneh Shahaeian presents cross-cultural research on how Iranian and Australian children develop a theory of mind. Depending on cultural context, children undergo differently ordered steps to gain understanding of mind. Culture also affects how children understand knowledge acquisition.

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