Cognitive contributions to theory of mind ability in children with a traumatic head injury

Naomi Kahana Levy*, Noach Milgram

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of the current study is to examine the contribution of intellectual abilities, executive functions (EF), and facial emotion recognition to difficulties in Theory of Mind (ToM) abilities in children with a traumatic head injury. Israeli children with a traumatic head injury were compared with their non-injured counterparts. Each group included 18 children (12 males) ages 7-13. Measurements included reading the mind in the eyes, facial emotion recognition, reasoning the others characteristics based on motive and outcome, Ravens Coloured Progressive Matrices, similarities and digit span (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised 95 subscales), verbal fluency, and the Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Functions. Non-injured children performed significantly better on ToM, abstract reasoning, and EF measures compared with children with a traumatic head injury. However, differences in ToM abilities between the groups were no longer significant after controlling for abstract reasoning, working memory, verbal fluency, or facial emotion recognition. Impaired ToM recognition and reasoning abilities after a head injury may result from other cognitive impairments. In children with mild and moderate head injury, poorer performance on ToM tasks may reflect poorer abstract reasoning, a general tendency to concretize stimuli, working memory and verbal fluency deficits, and difficulties in facial emotion recognition, rather than deficits in the ability to understand the others thoughts and emotions. ToM impairments may be secondary to a range of cognitive deficits in determining social outcomes in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-196
Number of pages20
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive
  • Executive functions
  • Israel
  • Theory of mind
  • Traumatic head injury


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