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Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind

6. Cultural Differences

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In this module, we think about the impact of culture on the development of a theory of mind. We begin by differentiating between individualist and collectivist cultures and explore how they differ in their general understanding of the self and its relation to others. We then discuss a study by Harris et al. (1991) which tested a group of children in Cameroon using a test of false belief and found no difference in the age at which the test was passed in comparison with the UK or the USA. However, a later study carried out in Japan showed that children in this country passed the test later than usual. We think about the possible reasons for this finding and how they may be related to the more collectivist cultural context in which these children were raised. Finally, we suggest that an alternative testing method to the traditional test of false belief may be more suitable for measuring the development of a theory of mind in an inter-cultural context.

Further reading:
Peter Mitchell and Fenja Ziegler, The Fundamentals of Developmental Psychology (London: Psychology Press, 2013), 2nd edn


In this course, Professor Peter Mitchell (University of Nottingham) discusses how we acquire a theory of mind, i.e. the ability to make inferences about the mental states of others. We begin, in module one, by exploring what we mean by the term ‘theory of mind’ and how it can be measured using a test of false belief. In module two, we discuss two rival theories of how we come to understand the thoughts and feelings of others before moving on, in module three, to think about whether a theory of mind is innate or developed over time. Modules four and five consider how our ability to understand the internal states of others may be influenced by the condition of autism and factors in our social environment, while module six explores how the development of a theory of mind varies across different cultures.


Peter Mitchell is Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was head of the School of Psychology on the University of Nottingham’s UK campus. He has published six books and is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. Professor Mitchell has served as Chair of the Developmental Section of the British Psychological Society and as Chief Examiner for the Economic and Social Research Council UK PhD studentship competition. Some of Professor Mitchell’s recent publications include ‘Autism and the double empathy problem: Implications for development and mental health’ (2020) and ‘Do neurotypical people like or dislike autistic people?’ (2021).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, P. (2019, October 11). Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind - Cultural Differences [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, P. "Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind – Cultural Differences ." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Oct 2019,

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