Developing an understanding of others’ emotional states: Relations among affective theory of mind and empathy measures in early childhood
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AbstractTheory of mind (ToM) consists of cognitive and affective components; however, few studies have evaluated the coherence of affective ToM measures and their associations with empathy. This research examined the relations among affective ToM tasks and assessments of empathy, measured directly and via parent reports in 4‐ to 6‐year‐olds. Children (N = 117) completed: an Appearance‐Reality Emotion Task, an adapted Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, an Affective Stories Task, and an empathy task. Parents reported on children’s ToM and empathy, and language was assessed using a Picture Vocabulary Test. Controlling for language, no relationships were found among affective ToM measures and children’s age was only related to the Affective Stories Task. Further, controlling for age, only parent‐reported empathy was associated with the Appearance‐Reality Emotion Task. Once vocabulary and age were controlled, measures of affective ToM are unrelated and different developmental patterns emerged across measures. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject Affective theory of mind is a distinct subcomponent of theory of mind that corresponds to an independent developmental mechanism. However, little research has been conducted on affective ToM, its developmental trajectory during the preschool years, its assessment, and its relationship with related constructs, such as empathy. What the present study adds Children’s performance on affective ToM tasks was unrelated once age and language abilities were accounted for. Thus, there is a need to examine affective ToM and its measurement more extensively to ensure we are effectively capturing this construct. This study was the first to establish a Preschool Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task that uses images of children and pictorial response options and an Affective Stories Task that captures age‐related changes in affective ToM beyond language skills.