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Developing an understanding of others’ minds (called theory of mind) has been a topic of considerable research effort. Literature on theory of mind and family influences within Western cultures has documented that children’s understanding of mind is related to parental and family factors such as the number of siblings, discussion about emotions inside the family, and parenting styles. However, research in non-Western cultures is scarce, despite culture playing an important role in shaping parenting practices and family atmosphere. The current study therefore investigated links between mothers’ disciplinary strategies and children’s theory of mind understanding in Iran. Mothers of forty 4- to 6-year-old children responded to six parenting disciplinary situations derived from a study by Ruffman, Perner, and Parkin. In each situation, mothers were presented with a challenging scenario which may occur in daily interactions and were asked what they would do if that the situation happens. Mothers’ answers were coded based on a variety of disciplinary strategies. Children were tested with a battery of theory of mind tasks, including false belief, diverse beliefs, and a Theory of Mind Scale. Results showed that the disciplinary strategy of Silence or avoiding direct encounter with the child was negatively correlated with children’s total theory of mind scores as well as false belief and diverse beliefs understanding. In contrast, the disciplinary strategy focused on Discussion was positively correlated to all theory of mind measures. This study presents important findings to better understand theory of mind development and factors associated with it in a culture different from previously studied samples.

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Journal Article

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