Gender and theory of mind in preschoolers’ group effort: evidence for timing differences behind children’s earliest social loafing

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Journal of Social Psychology


This study explored mental state reasoning within the context of group effort and possible differences in development between boys and girls. Preschool children (59 girls, 47 boys) were assessed for theory of mind (ToM) ability using classic false belief tests. Children participated in group effort conditions that alternated from one condition, where individual effort was transparent and obvious, to one where individual effort remained anonymous. The aim was to investigate if emergent mental state reasoning, after controlling for age, was associated with the well-known phenomenon of reduced effort in group tasks (“social loafing”). Girls had slightly higher ToM scores and social loafing than boys. Hierarchical regression, controlling for age, indicated that understanding of others’ false beliefs uniquely predicted social loafing and interacted weakly with gender status.