Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 93–102 | Cite as

Maltreatment and Advanced Theory of Mind Development in School-aged Children

  • Jessica O’Reilly
  • Candida C. Peterson
Original Article


Theory of mind (ToM), the understanding of people’s beliefs and states of mind underpins effective communication and social relationships throughout life. Plausibly, the experience of being maltreated could delay the child’s development of ToM. However empirical evidence for this is scanty, especially in children age five and over. The present study aimed to fill this void. 105 Australian children were tested on first- and second-order false belief tests and a developmentally-sequenced ToM Scale. Of this sample, 52 children had experienced maltreatment and were receiving therapy and 53 children were matched nonclinic controls. As predicted, controls outperformed the maltreated on first-order changed-locations, misleading container false belief tests, and on an advanced belief-emotion test. Furthermore, maltreatment severity was an independent negative predictor of ToM understanding after controlling other variables. Findings reveal the persistence of problems in understanding others’ minds for maltreated children with implications both for social cognition and for applied interventions.


Family violence False belief understanding Harsh parenting 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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