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  • Writer's pictureClaire Hsieh

Theory of Mind

What is the theory of mind?

Theory of mind can be seen as perspective-taking, or the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others. It is an essential mental activity required in daily social functions (Birch et al., 2017).

Theory of mind is complex and multifaceted, and hence difficult for researchers to measure as a construct. In layman's terms, having the theory of mind means one can recognize feelings, attitudes, and intentions, and infer others’ inner mental states. Therefore, it is important in social communication, and significant in a child’s social and cultural learning (Astington, 2003; Lenton-Brym et al., 2018).

Based on other research studies, it is also related to one’s ability to respond socially to others, serves as an indicator of one’s psychological well-being, and displays a child’s visual attention patterns such as eye-tracking (Baron-Cohen et al., 1995).

How is the theory of mind measured?

At Total Communication, our team of experienced educational therapists and speech-language pathologists utilize the Theory of Mind Inventory-2. It measures theory of mind and social-cognitive functioning via parent reports.

Based on past studies (Lerner et al., 2011; Pujals et al., 2016), the inventory has strong internal consistency and construct validity, making it a highly reliable measurement tool with good quality. The measure has 60 statements with respondents given the options ranging from ‘definitely not’ to ‘definitely’ with a center point of ‘undecided’.

Curious about the questions directed toward parents? Below are some:

  • My child understands that people can be wrong about what other people want. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Definitely not Probably not Undecided Probably Definitely

  • My child understands whether someone hurts another on purpose or by accident. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Definitely not Probably not Undecided Probably Definitely

The Theory of Mind Inventory is used as a diagnostic tool for speech and language assessments. It gives clinicians a better idea of a child’s performance in social communication and social cognitive understanding. Designed to assess a wide range of theory of mind competencies, the inventory is particularly helpful for identifying areas of strength and weakness in a child’s social-cognitive abilities. It is thus useful for identifying developmentally appropriate targets for treatment for our clients.


  1. Astington, J. W. (2003). Sometimes necessary, never sufficient: False-belief understanding and social competence. In B. Repacholi & V. Slaughter (Eds.), Individual differences in theory of mind: Implications for typical and atypical development (pp. 13–38). Psychology Press.

  2. Baron‐Cohen, S., Campbell, R., Karmiloff‐Smith, A., Grant, J., & Walker, J. (1995). Are children with autism blind to the mentalistic significance of the eyes?. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 13(4), 379-398.

  3. Birch, S. A. J., Li, V., Haddock, T., Ghrear, S. E., Brosseau-Liard, P., Baimel, A., & Whyte, M. (2017). Perspectives on perspective taking: how children think about the minds of others. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 52, 185-226.

  4. Lenton-Brym, A. P., Moscovitch, D. A., Vidovic, V., Nilsen, E., & Friedman, O. (2018). Theory of mind ability in high socially anxious individuals. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 31(5), 487–499.

  5. Lerner, M. D., Hutchins, T. L., & Prelock, P. A. (2011). Brief report: Preliminary evaluation of the theory of mind inventory and its relationship to measures of social skills. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 41, 512-517.

  6. Pujals, E., Batlle, S., Camprodon, E., Pujals, S., Estrada, X., Aceña, M., ... & Pérez-Solá, V. (2016). Brief report: Translation and adaptation of the theory of mind inventory to Spanish. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 685-690.

  7. Theory of Mind Inventory - 2. (2017, May 22). The Theory of Mind Inventory (ToMI) – Welcome.

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