ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 54 ›› Issue (8): 892-904.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2022.00892

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The relationship between preschoolers’ understanding of considerate socially-mindful actions and theory of mind

ZHAO Xin, LI Dandan, YANG Xiangdong   

  1. Department of Educational Psychology, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
  • Published:2022-08-25 Online:2022-06-23


We live in a highly interdependent world. Even if we do not directly interact with others, our own behaviors can have an indirect impact on others. One type of such behaviors that indirectly bring benefits to others are considerate, socially-mindful behaviors. In this study, we examined preschoolers’ evaluation of considerate socially-mindful actions; importantly, we also explored the underlying developmental mechanisms by examining its potential relationship to the development of theory-of-mind abilities. A total of 100 children aged 4~6 were recruited in this study. In the social mindfulness task, children were asked to compare two story characters, both of whom were to choose snack at snack time. One of the characters leaves a choice for the person waiting behind when she took a piece of fruit for herself (i.e., acts socially mindful), while the other character in a similar situation leaves no choice for the person waiting behind (i.e., does not act socially mindful). Children were then asked 1) which of these two characters was nicer and 2) who they would prefer to select as a friend. In addition, children were also administered theory-of-mind tasks (including the content false belief task, location false belief task, and hidden emotion task). We also measured children’s prosocial orientation (by a sharing task) and executive functioning capacity (by a Day/Night Stroop task). We found that, first, with age, children increasingly rated the socially-mindful character as nicer than the character who left no choice, and increasingly selected the socially-mindful character as a friend (r = 0.23, p = 0.20, see Figure 1). Second, when controlling for age, children's evaluations and friend preference in the social mindfulness task was significantly positively correlated with their theory-of-mind (r = 0.26, p = 0.008, see Figure 2), but was not correlated with their sharing behaviors or executive functioning. Such correlation remained significant when controlling for sharing and executive functioning. In summary, between the ages 4 and 6, children gradually develop an understanding and evaluation of social mindfulness, and such development is correlated with the development of theory-of-mind abilities. These findings provide insights for our understanding of children's social and moral evaluation and its underlying developmental mechanism.

Key words: social cognitive development, social mindfulness, theory of mind, preschoolers, moral cognition