Reduced neural selectivity for mental states in deaf children with delayed exposure to sign language

Hilary Richardson, J. Koster-Hale, N. Caselli, R. Magid, R. Benedict, H. Olson, J. Pyers, R. Saxe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Language provides a rich source of information about other people’s thoughts and feelings. Consequently, delayed access to language may influence conceptual development in Theory of Mind (ToM). We use functional magnetic resonance imaging and behavioral tasks to study ToM development in child (n = 33, 4–12 years old) and adult (n = 36) fluent signers of American Sign Language (ASL), and characterize neural ToM responses during ASL and movie-viewing tasks. Participants include deaf children whose first exposure to ASL was delayed up to 7 years (n = 12). Neural responses to ToM stories (specifically, selectivity of the right temporo-parietal junction) in these children resembles responses previously observed in young children, who have similar linguistic experience, rather than those in age-matched native-signing children, who have similar biological maturation. Early linguistic experience may facilitate ToM development, via the development of a selective brain region for ToM. © 2020, The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Article number3246
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages3246
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • brain
  • language
  • maturation
  • nervous system
  • psychology
  • resonance
  • adult
  • Article
  • brain region
  • child
  • clinical article
  • controlled study
  • executive function
  • female
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • hearing impairment
  • hemodynamics
  • human
  • language delay
  • male
  • medial prefrontal cortex
  • mental health
  • Monte Carlo method
  • nerve potential
  • neural selectivity
  • prefrontal cortex
  • sign language
  • task performance
  • temporoparietal junction
  • theory of mind
  • adolescent
  • cultural anthropology
  • diagnostic imaging
  • exploratory behavior
  • linguistics
  • middle aged
  • morality
  • nuclear magnetic resonance imaging
  • pathophysiology
  • preschool child
  • young adult


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