How does a doll play affect socio-emotional development in children?: Evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging measures

AbstractMentalization is an important ability to acquire for children, as it allows humans to understand the mental state of others or oneself. We examined the relationship between development of mentalization ability in children and their experience of playing with a doll by observing child-mother interaction and by using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Children aged 2 to 3 and their mothers were divided into two groups (high and low) depending on the frequency of doll-play. We examined mother-speech interaction during the doll play. We also used fNIRS system to measure cerebral hemodynamic activation during the observation of hindering and helping behaviors. The results showed that a mother’s talk was related to a child’s doll directed speech in the high group, but not in the low group. fNRIS data showed that cerebral activation in the helping condition was more increased in the low group than the high group. This suggests that doll-play experience facilitates the development of mentalization.

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