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Gabriel Nguyentran (SOAR)

The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status and Parental Mental-State Language

Gabriel T. Nguyentran, James Z. Sullivan, & Rose M. Scott, PhD

School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced

False-belief understanding, the ability to recognize that others can be mistaken, plays an important role in everyday social interactions. Previous studies have shown a positive correlation between SES and children’s performance on traditional tests of false-belief understanding (Devine & Hughes, 2018). One possibility is that this relationship stems from differences in parental mental-state talk. Mental-state language – words that refer to thoughts, desires, and feelings – positively predicts children’s performance on several types of false-belief tasks (Roby & Scott, 2018). However, previous research has focused largely on parents of higher-SES, making it unclear whether similar language patterns emerge in lower-SES families. Our study hopes to clarify any socioeconomic differences in parental mental-state talk. For this study, a socioeconomically diverse sample of parents completed a picture-book task with their children (27 to 39 months). Parent-talk was coded for percentage of utterances that contained cognition, desire, or emotion terms. As children got older, parents began to use less emotion terms and more cognition terms, regardless of SES. However, parents of higher-SES used more cognition terms overall. These preliminary results suggest that parent-talk does differ across SES, which in turn, could explain why there are sociocognitive differences in false-belief understanding.


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