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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Brenda Lundy Jackson


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


Children's social interactions with those who are more knowledgeable or skilled may foster cognitive development (Conner & Cross, 2003). Much of the research in this area has been driven by the theoretical views of Vygotsky (e.g., 1978), who suggested that the tutoring (or scaffolding) is most effective when it occurs within the child's zone of proximal development (ZPD). The ZPD refers to the distance between what the child is capable of accomplishing independently and what the child is able to accomplish with the assistance of someone more knowledgeable. Individual differences, however, have been reported in parents' scaffolding effectiveness and the reasons for the variations are not well understood. The purpose of the present research was to explore differences in parents' autonomy-supportive comments in relation to scaffolding effectiveness and, in turn, children’s theory of mind development. Fifty-eight parents and their four-year-olds participated. Each parent completed demographic measures and participated in a collaborative problem-solving task with his/her child. Interactions were video-recorded and parents' comments were transcribed. Interactions were coded for (a) the content of parents' comments (autonomy supportive versus directive, controlling) and (b) for levels of scaffolding effectiveness. Children’s theory of mind was assessed using a false belief task. As expected, the frequency of parents’ autonomy supportive comments were correlated with levels of scaffolding effectiveness and children’s false belief performance (r=-. 38,p<.001;r=.22,p<.05, respectively). In addition, mediation analyses revealed that parents' scaffolding effectiveness mediated the relation between parents’ autonomy supportive comments and children’s false belief performance (R2=.17, F(2,55)=5.68, p=.006, (95% CI: [-.0035 to -0.002]). The present findings contribute to our understanding of individual differences in parents' ability to effectively scaffold their children during problem-solving. These findings may have important practical implications given that the quality of early parent-child interactions may play an important role in children's early cognitive development. 23


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Autonomy Supportive Comments during Parent-Child Interactions and Early Theory of Mind Development

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