The capacity to figure out what others are thinking and what they mean is an ability unique to people that’s central to our lives. A new study on the neural mechanisms that govern these abilities sheds light on the relation between how people and groups interact, on the one hand, and how the brain develops and functions, on the other.
The study, in the July/August 2009 issue of the journal Child Development, was conducted by researchers at Queen’s University at Kingston in Ontario, Canada.
In the preschool years, children develop social skills by learning how to understand others’ thoughts and feelings, or their theory of mind. In most children, theory of mind changes over time so they come to understand that others’ thoughts are representations of the world that may or may not match the way the world actually is. In their study of EEGs of 29 4-year-olds, the researchers found that these changes are related to the functional development of two parts of the brain—the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex and the temporal-parietal juncture—that govern similar understanding in adults.