Date of Award

Fall 10-25-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling and Psychological Services

Abstract

Because theory of mind (ToM; Samson, 2009) and executive function (EF; Meltzer, 2010) are important skill domains for children’s academic and social success in school, researchers have focused on evaluating the impact of interventions designed to enhance the development of these skills (e.g., Peskin & Astington, 2004; Dowsett & Livesey, 2000). Using an experimental design, the current study evaluated the effectiveness of the Georgia Wolftrap (GWT) program, a drama-based language intervention, at improving ToM and EF in a sample of kindergarten students from low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds. Researchers (Cole & Mitchell, 1998; Noble, Norman, & Farah, 2005) have indicated that low SES is associated with underdeveloped ToM and EF. Thirteen lessons designed to enhance children’s understanding and use of symbols by exploring literature through imaginative role-play were implemented in place of the regular language arts curriculum. This intervention was hypothesized to engender growth in ToM because it incorporates elements found to be associated with ToM development, such as experience with language (e.g., Jenkins & Astington, 1996), mental state talk (e.g., Adrian, Clemente, & Villanueva, 2007), and pretend play (e.g., Cutting & Dunn, 2006). The impact on EF development, particularly inhibition and attentional control, was expected to be caused by children’s participation in intervention activities that require sustained, active engagement and use of motor and cognitive self-control. Consistent with research describing early childhood as a period of dramatic growth in ToM and EF (e.g., Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001), the results of paired-sample t tests indicated that the intervention (n = 41) and control groups (n = 42) demonstrated significant improvement in ToM, inhibition, and attentional control from pre-test to post-test. Despite a trend for the intervention group to demonstrate stronger performance, analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) indicated that, after controlling for pre-test scores, there were no significant differences in post-test scores between the intervention and control groups. Possible explanations for the lack of significant differences between the intervention and control groups are discussed. Implications for future research are also suggested.

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