OUR RECENT WORK
Bilingualism and Theory of Mind: Variation Within Bilingual Preschoolers
The present study examined the link between preschoolers’ level of bilingualism and their Theory of Mind (ToM) understanding. As exposure to two languages may increase children’s ability to understand complex mental states, the impact of bilingualism on the advancement of ToM among bilingual preschool children was investigated. Participants were recruited from preschools in the San Francisco Bay Area that serve predominantly a multicultural and multilingual community. All thirty-seven children (mean age = 47 months; SD = 5.39) that participated were reported as being bilingual by their parent. All parents filled out a survey which asked a set of questions regarding children’s ability to understand and speak in a second language. To measure ToM understanding, participants were given the Wellman and Liu’s (2004) Theory of Mind Scale, which included six items varying in level of difficulty. Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that preschoolers’ level of bilingualism accounted for significant variance in overall ToM performance, even after controlling for their level of English receptive vocabulary. The present study supports the positive impact bilingual experience has on preschoolers’ ToM understanding.
Emotion Knowledge and Theory of Mind Among Chinese Preschoolers: A Curriculum-Based Approach
Although crucial in early childhood development, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are seldom integrated in preschool classrooms. SEL programs can be especially critical for students in China, where academic rigor is a top priority and emotional expressiveness may be suppressed (Kirkpatrick & Zang, 2011; Potter, 2009). The present study reports the implementation and evaluation of an SEL program with preschoolers in Sichuan, China. A group of 58 students (Mage = 56.23 months; SD = 6.18) were presented with SEL training over a period of 2 weeks. MANOVA results revealed a significant main effect of condition from pre- to post-tests for students in the experimental condition, where SEL training was provided, compared to students in the control condition. Furthermore, paired-samples t-tests revealed student’s emotion knowledge and theory of mind understanding improved significantly from pre-test to post-test for initially low-performing students in the experimental condition. These results demonstrate the positive impact of targeted approaches in SEL for underperforming students at the early childhood level.
For further information visit the "Service-Learning in China" section on the "Outreach Programs" page.
Cross-Cultural Differences in General Preschool Teaching Styles and Math Instruction
Elementary mathematics curricula and teaching styles have been found to vary across countries (e.g., Santagata, 2004). However, little is known about the mathematics instruction and teaching practices of preschool years. The present study examined math activities, teaching styles, and interruptions in preschool classrooms across three cultures: U.S. (N = 5), Taiwan (N = 5), and Peru (N = 4). Typical preschool lessons in these cultures were videotaped and coded for the theme of the lesson, math concepts presented, and interruptions made by teachers and students. While math concepts and activities were present in all classrooms, Taiwanese teachers incorporated more mathematical themes than U.S. and Peruvian teachers. Further, significantly more interruptions were observed in U.S. classrooms than in Taiwanese and Peruvian classrooms. The present results provide new insights into factors that may explain why East Asian children may enter their formal mathematics education in elementary school years with an advantage compared to their international peers. Furthermore, the present study may provide ideas for innovative ways to present early math concepts to young children.
Role of Parental Socialization on Theory of Mind Understanding: A Cross-cultural Comparison
Theory of Mind (ToM) is an important development in early childhood, predictive of later social and academic success (Blair & Razza, 2007; Caputi, Lecce, Pagnin, & Banerjee, 2012). There is a well-documented developmental difference in (ToM) acquisitions across culture, but little research has investigated a possible source for the difference. The present study investigated the potential role of parental socialization as a cultural factor contributing to differing (ToM) developmental patterns in U.S. and Chinese children. In total, 501 parents completed an online survey, 199 parents of first and second graders in the U.S. (91 female parents, 67 male parents, 41 parents did not report) and 302 parents of first and second graders in China (222 female parents, 80 male parents). Parents completed a newly designed Parental Socialization Survey intended to measure parental socialization of (ToM) concepts, as well as the Children’s Social Understanding Scale, a parental report of children’s ToM. Results showed that U.S. parents reported higher socialization of ToM concepts than Chinese parents. Discussion focuses on the potential value of a measure or parental socialization measure in light of the continual discovery of cultural and sub-cultural differences in ToM development.
Theory of Mind and Executive Function in Chinese Preschool Children
Cross-cultural research on children’s theory of mind (ToM) understanding has raised questions about its developmental sequence and relationship with executive function (EF). The current study examined how ToM develops (using the tasks from Wellman & Liu, 2004) in relation to 2 EF skills (conflict inhibition, working memory) in 997 Chinese preschoolers (ages 3, 4, 5) in Chengdu, China. Compared with prior research with other Chinese and non-Chinese children, some general patterns in development were replicated in this sample. However, the children showed culture-specific reversals in the developmental sequence of ToM. For example, Chengdu children performed differently on the 2 false-belief tasks that were thought to be equivalent. Furthermore, conflict inhibition as well as working memory uniquely predicted ToM performance. We discuss the issues of ToM development as they relate to test items and cross-cultural—and subcultural—differences. In a subsequent study, a battery of 10 ToM tasks differing in content and culture-specific relevancy was administered to 147 Chengdu preschoolers to examine their ToM developmental sequence, as well as gender differences. The results showed robust cross-cultural variation in ToM sequence, where HE was easier than EFB. Chengdu children performed similarly across the six HE and across the three EFB test items, generalizing their ToM understanding across contexts varying in cultural relevance. Girls outperformed boys in the ToM tasks even after controlling for age and receptive vocabulary. The inclusion of multiple test items strengthened and generalized the finding that the sequence reversal between EFB and HE may be culture-specific, reflecting experiences emphasized by the culture that may foster or hinder children’s ToM development.
Empathy in Chinese Children: Cultural Influences on the Cognition and Empathy Relationship
Understanding how children’s cognition relates to their empathy (i.e., the ability to share and understand another’s emotional state) can provide valuable information for children’s socio-emotional development, especially since empathy is related to various child outcomes (e.g. lowering externalizing problems and promoting prosocial behavior). The present study is the first to examine whether Chinese children engage in a specific type of empathy more and whether language ability and executive functioning predict empathy in Chinese children who are growing up in a collectivistic culture. A sample of 92 Chengdu first graders (52% females) between 6 to 7.5 years old (M = 6.79 years, SD = 0.28) completed the Basic Empathy Scale, a working memory task, and an inhibitory control task. Chinese children demonstrated significantly higher cognitive empathy than affective empathy, a trend consistently found in collectivistic cultures. Additionally, Chinese children’s language ability significantly predicted their empathy, more specifically their affective empathy. The present study’s findings allow for further examination of the plausible relationship between children’s social cognition and empathy on cross-cultural basis.
Mexican Parents’ Levels of Stress and Their Children’s Behavioral Challenges: The Impact of COVID-19
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a respiratory (lung) disease that was first detected in Wuhan City, China on December 31, 2019. In an attempt to slowdown the spread of the disease, governments around the world closed non-essential business, schools and public and private places where people could gather. In this study we focus on the impact that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure has had on the daily lives of Mexican families. As of the 31st of October 2020 Mexico has reported over 1,070,000 positive cases and over 107,000 deaths (DGE). Many Mexican families are struggling to cope and manage the level of stress caused by the extensive quarantine (Garcia-Priego et al. 2020). Roughly, 400 parents will report both their own trauma-related symptoms as well as reporting behavioral changes in their child(ren) such as stress, aggressive behaviors, mood swings, and other difficulties from current life events. More specifically the study seeks to understand the link between parent-child stress symptoms caused by the pandemic and factors that may moderate the relationship between the two (e.g., co-parenting style).
For further information visit the "Family Engagement in Mexico" section on the "Outreach Programs" page.
Differences Amongst Eastern Asian Children: Exploring Executive Function and Early Math Skills
East and South East Asian children have been found to consistently outperform U.S. children in mathematics as early as preschool years1. Recently, Executive Function (EF) – the general cognitive ability aimed to facilitate controlling of one’s thoughts and behavior – has been found to predict young children’s academic achievement, including math3. The present study aimed to further explore the role of EF in early mathematical ability in preschoolers from two high, mathematically achieving countries. 63 Chinese (boys = 28) and 48 Singaporean (boys = 21) preschoolers (Mage = 56 months; SD = 3.78) were given a battery of EF tasks: measures of attention control, inhibition, and working memory. Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA) was given to measure early math proficiency. Singaporean children performed significantly better on TEMA (M = 21.58, SD= 7.21) than Chinese children (M = 15.17, SD = 8.59), t(109) = -4.27, p < 0.001. When compared to standard TEMA score for U.S. children of similar age, both Singaporean and Chinese children outperformed U.S., p < 0.001;p < 0.001. The EF tasks showed Chengdu children performing significantly better on the working memory task (M = 5.33, SD = 2.93) than Singaporean (M = 4.00, SD = 2.06), t(109) = 2.26, p = 0.02. These findings show multiple components of EF contributing to math performance in East Asian preschoolers. Working memory especially contributed to math performance, consistent with previous studies3. Future research should aim to explore cross-cultural differences to better understand the role of EF in learning early mathematical concepts.
The Positive Impacts of International Service Learning on College-Aged Students’ Development
With more than 45% of the world’s largest companies based out of emerging markets, college students who develop global and cultural competencies as well as life-long learning and self-development skills are equipped with skills necessary for the future. The present study examined the impact of an international service learning (ISL) program on college-aged students’ development. Twenty-five participants (mean age = 22.67 months, SD = 2.93) were undergraduates attending San Francisco State University. All participants completed the ISL program and completed pre-departure and post-departure surveys as well as reflection assignments that occurred throughout the program. To measure lifelong-learning and self-development skills, participants completed the Adaptability Scale (Martin et al., 2012) and the General Self-Efficacy scale (Schwarzer & Jerusalem’s, 1995). To measure global and cultural competence, participants were given Short-Form Cultural Intelligence scale (Thomas et al., 2015) and the World-mindedness scale (Der-Karabetian, 1992). Paired samples t-tests revealed that participants demonstrated significant growth in cultural intelligence (t = 2.35, p < .05) and marginal growth in self-efficacy (t = 2.01, p = .06). Results show that students place great value in learning cultural skills and developing their cultural knowledge and metacognition, leading to advances in their cultural intelligence. As we build stronger connections with global leaders, more opportunities for collaboration with people from diverse cultures will be an emphasis. The present study supports the positive impact that international service learning has on college-aged students’ development.
For further inquiries surrounding specific studies and upcoming work, please contact us via the information below.