Reduced Neural Selectivity for Mental States in Deaf Children with Delayed Exposure to Sign Language

Hilary Richardson, Jorie Koster-Hale, Naomi Caselli, Rachel Magid, Rachel Benedict, Halie Olson, Jennie Pyers, and Rebecca Saxe

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Jul 09, 2019
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Received Date: 26th June 19

Children’s developing Theory of Mind (ToM) is influenced by exposure to linguistically rich conversations, but the mechanism of this correlation continues to be debated. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in addition to behavioral tasks to study ToM development in child (n=33, 4-12 years old) and adult (n=36) signers of American Sign Language (ASL). Participants included deaf children whose first exposure to ASL was delayed up to 7 years (n=12). Behaviorally, ToM delays based on delayed access to language were apparent in linguistic tests of ToM, despite ASL fluency. Neurally, delayed linguistic experience corresponded to reduced selectivity for mental states in the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ) during childhood. There were no enduring effects of language delay in adults. These results provide compelling evidence that linguistic experience facilitates developmental change in ToM-specific representations, via the development of a selective brain region for ToM.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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