I don’t wanna dance… Theory of Mind and why children suddenly stop singing or dancing for fun

This study gives an explanation for something many parens and teachers will recognize for sure: suddenly a lot of children when growing up stop doing stuff spontaneously. Stuff such as dancing, singing,… Why, if there is a party: won’t they dance? Some people may argue this is because of puberty hitting the child, but Chaplin and Norton argue this is because of the development of a Theory of Mind.

Do note, theory of mind is nothing bad by definition:

Theory of mind (ToM) is generally viewed as a positive development, typically beginning around age 4, with sharp increases between ages 5 and 6 and further development throughout school-age years. The overwhelming consensus is that ToM allows children to achieve success in the social world by interpreting human behavior and understanding cultural meanings and social norms, such that individuals with deficits in ToM have difficulty in social interaction and in determining the intentions of others.

But this maybe comes with a price as this study with 3- to 12-year olds shows, gains in Theory Of Mind decreases the desire to sing or dance:

Our results support our account that ToM appears to equip children with the ability to predict that others may not view their performance as favorably as they do, which is associated with decreased self-esteem—and avoiding the spotlight. Note that our data address a salient alternative explanation for our pattern of performance avoidance, one familiar to anyone interacting with socially awkward adolescents or preteens: As children enter puberty they experience a host of changes that decrease their desire to perform. However, our results show that the shift away from performance begins as early as age 4, years before children enter puberty—suggesting that these changes in later childhood are unlikely to account for our results.

Abstract of the study:

Theory of mind (ToM) allows children to achieve success in the social world by understanding others’ minds. A study with 3- to 12-year-olds, however, demonstrates that gains in ToM are linked to decreases in children’s desire to engage in performative behaviors associated with health and well-being, such as singing and dancing. One hundred and fifty-nine middle-class children from diverse backgrounds in a Northeastern U.S. metropolitan area completed the study in 2011. The development of ToM is associated with decreases in self-esteem, which in turn predicts decreases in children’s willingness to perform. This shift away from performance begins at age 4 (when ToM begins to develop), years before children enter puberty.

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