Relations among false-belief understanding, executive function, and social competence: A longitudinal analysis

Open Access
Razza, Rachel Anne
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 07, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Clancy Blair, Committee Chair
  • Cynthia Stifter, Committee Member
  • Scott David Gest, Committee Member
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Committee Member
  • false-belief
  • social cognition
  • social competence
  • executive function
  • early childhood
  • Head Start
  • low-income
  • theory of mind
  • longitudinal
During the preschool years, children acquire an understanding of false-belief; that is, they recognize that people can believe things that are untrue. The extant literature suggests that false-belief understanding has important correlates during early childhood, which include language ability, executive function, and social competence. The majority of previous studies, however, have been cross-sectional and limited to a select high-income population. The present study explored longitudinal relations among false-belief and its correlates within a Head Start sample. Sixty-nine children (average age = 5 years 1 month) were assessed during the spring of their preschool year and again in the spring of their kindergarten year. Children’s false-belief understanding, language ability, and executive function were assessed directly with laboratory tasks. Social competence was measured via teacher report. Results indicate a bidirectional relation between false-belief understanding and social competence, which exists independent of children’s language ability. In contrast, concurrent, rather than longitudinal, relations were reported between false-belief understanding and executive function. False-belief understanding was supported as a mediator of the longitudinal relation between executive function and social competence. There was no evidence, however, that gender moderated relations between false-belief understanding and its correlates. These findings represent a significant contribution to the false-belief literature and have important implications for future research and practice.