Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology


Educational Psychology and Methodology

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 136 pages) : color illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Erin Ruth Baker

Committee Members

Tianlin Wang, Hae In Park


Bilingualism, Economic Adversity, Executive Function, Theory of Mind, Bilingualism in children, Poor children, Cognition in children, Philosophy of mind in children

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology | Educational Psychology


The present study investigated the associations between bilingualism and Theory of Mind (ToM) development among children from low-income backgrounds. ToM is the capacities of understanding others’ mental states, such as beliefs, knowledge, or emotions, which develops rapidly during early childhood. Previous studies showed that bilingual experience may be associated with an enhanced ToM, while it is less known whether the similar effect can be generalized to the low-income populations. In addition, it remained unclear what role of Executive Function (EF) plays in the relationship between bilingualism and Theory of Mind in economically disadvantaged environments. The current study aims to address the two research gaps. Sixty-eight economically disadvantaged preschool children (54.4.% boys) completed the language assessment, three EF tasks, and a five-task ToM battery by Wellman and Liu’s (2004), which includes measures of Diverse Desires, Diverse Beliefs, Knowledge Access, False Belief Understanding, and Hidden Emotions. The three standardized EF tasks assessed inhibition control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility respectively. Participants were categorized into two groups based on their Bilingualism Status: Thirty-five English monolinguals (Mage = 48.91 months, MINR = 1.23), 33 English-Spanish bilingual children (Mage = 51.97 months, MINR =1.22). Parents provided information about family demographics and the child’s language experience at home. Both ANCOVA and hierarchical linear regression results showed that after controlling children’s age and English proficiency, there was a positive correlation between bilingualism and ToM among children in low-income families. Specifically, bilingual children were more likely to demonstrate a better ToM competence compared to monolingual children. In addition, the higher degree of bilingualism is associated with better ToM performance in bilingual children. Mediation analysis indicated that the effect of bilingualism on ToM through the pathway of working memory and cognitive flexibility was significant, while the pathway through inhibitory control were not significant. The findings suggest that an early bilingual learning experience can be a protective factor for economically disadvantaged preschool children’s ToM development, and different EF components may play a different role in this relationship. The present study offers great significance in exploring the boundaries and mechanisms of bilingual effects on preschool children’s ToM development. Educational implications and future directions are discussed.