An Examination of the Role of Executive Function in Theory of Mind in Japanese Preschoolers Learning English

Conference: The European Conference on Language Learning (ECLL2022)
Title: An Examination of the Role of Executive Function in Theory of Mind in Japanese Preschoolers Learning English
Stream: Plurilingualism - Bilingualism
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Aya Kutsuki, Kobe Shoin Women's University, Japan
Hideyuki Taura, Ritsumeikan University, Japan


Many studies have suggested the link between the enhanced cognitive ability, especially Executive Function (EF), and Theory of Mind (ToM) in bilingual children. However, little is known about such link in very young children in the early stage of learning an additional language. Much less scarce are the empirical reports on such relationship in early bilinguals learning Japanese and English. The goal of the current study was to examine if Executive Function (EF) contributes to Theory of Mind (ToM) performance in preschoolers learning English and to see if there is a possible difference due to participants' English levels. Participants included 55 English learning preschoolers (L1 Japanese children) aged between three and five years of age, all from Japanese as L1 speaking homes attending a Japanese-English bilingual preschool. Method: The Theory of Mind Tasks were used to assess children’s understanding of others (=ToM). The Simon effect on reaction time (i.e. the amount of time required to inhibit unnecessary stimuli) was used as a measure of inhibitory control which is a subcomponent of EF. Multiple regression analyses indicated that the EF only predicted the ToM for the group with higher English level but not for the other subgroups and the entire group. The present findings firstly suggest that a certain level of general development is needed for the cognitive ability for solving tasks like ToM. Secondly, the findings may suggest that for even very young English learners with limited English level, English ability is integrated in their general development.

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