Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Speech-Language Pathology

Major Professor

Elaine R. Silliman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ruth Huntley Bahr, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Judith Becker Bryant, Ph. D.

Committee Member

Sylvia F. Diehl, Ph.D.


Theory of mind, Narratives, Motivational, Experiential, Belief


The purpose of this study was to determine differences in the use of mental state references by typically developing 9- and 11-year-old children. Following a priming task that emphasized distinctions between physical and mental acts, children watched an 11- minute textless video and then were asked to generate an oral and a written story that focused on the mental states of the multiple characters. Narratives were transcribed, and all mental state references were classified into motivational, experiential, and belief categories. Specific mental state references were also analyzed to determine levels of semantic complexity. The study attempted to answer: 1) whether 9- and 11-year-old typically developing children differed in their ability to use more complex mental state references and 2) whether this ability varied as a function of the oral versus the written modality.

The sample consisted of 26 children, ages 9;0-9;11 (15 females, 11 males), and 24 children, ages 11;00-11;11 (14 females, 10 males). The total sample (N=50) consisted of 32 Caucasian children, 15 African-American children, 2 Hispanic children, and 1 AsianAmerican. All children were selected from one urban elementary school located in West Central Florida, were from monolingual, English-speaking homes, and were speakers of Standard American English. A statistical analysis was conducted via a 3-way MANOVA, specifically, 2 (age 9 vs. age 11) x 4 (mental state categories) x 2 (oral versus written modality). In addition, a qualitative analysis was completed to compare the frequency, complexity, and lexical depth of different types of mental state verbs produced in the oral and written narratives.

Results revealed an unexpected lack of variability in age in the production of mental state references, possibly due to the close age interval of participants. However, there was substantial variability in production across the three mental state categories for both age groups. Across the two modalities, results provided evidence for increasing lexical diversity, complexity, and depth in the production of mental state references by the older children, especially for belief verbs. Future research directions are presented to investigate relationships between more advanced theory of mind development and the lexical depth of mental state references.