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Previous research has consistently indicated that theory of mind (ToM) is associated with executive control in the preschool years. However, interpretation of this literature is limited by the fact that most studies have focused exclusively on urbanized Western cultural samples. Consequently, it is not clear whether the association between ToM and executive control reflects the specific features of this particular cohort or instead reflects a universal pattern. The present study provides the first empirical assessment of these two constructs in three diverse groups of Iranian children. Participants were 142 preschoolers (4–5 years old) from high–socioeconomic status (SES) urban (n = 33), low–SES urban (n = 37) and rural villages (n = 77). The results show that there is a robust association between ToM and executive control in all three groups, and that executive control contributes significant unique variance to ToM understanding, even after controlling for a range of variables that have been proposed as potential confounders of this relationship. However, although the three groups were equated in ToM, significant differences in executive control were evident. Moreover, cluster analysis identified three distinct clusters that were relatively homogeneous with respect to executive control and SES. One of these clusters was characterized by both low SES and low executive functioning, and showed little evidence of ToM understanding. Taken together, these findings provide possibly the clearest evidence to date that the association between ToM and executive control is not dependent on children's previous experiences on the tasks, or their family and cultural background.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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