Development of a test instrument for Theory of Mind and understanding emotions in young children with hearing loss

Category Project

Ausgangslage und Ziele

According to Theory of Mind (ToM), someone possesses the ToM skills, if he or she:

  • is aware that people think and feel,
  • puts himself/herself in other people’s shoes (e.g. acknowledges the thoughts and feelings of other people),
  • realizes that one's own knowledge, beliefs and desires can differ from those of other people,
  • knows that other people have intentions,
  • evaluates the feelings and thoughts of other people and interprets their behaviour based on this background,
  • knows that one can use that for the own good.

ToM competences are basic for our social-cognitive competence. If we had no interest in each other, no sense of their needs and no differentiated understanding of their perspectives, we would have no compassion for others. This could mean that we would not respect other people.

Children acquire these competencies quite early in their life. Stages in development can be defined. Results have shown deaf and hard of hearing children have poorer ToM skills than their hearing peers, even if the test used to assess these skills was linguistically and culturally adapted (sign language). However, results of intervention studies on ToM development in deaf and hard of hearing children indicate that they can catch up.

Project Management

Mireille Audeoud Title Dr. phil.


Senior Researcher


  • Duration
  • Neue Projektnummer

Project Team

  • Tamara Bangerter
  • Claudia Becker
  • Katerina Antonopoulou
  • Kika Hadjikakou
  • K. Maridaki-Kassotaki


This project is a preliminary study. The aim was to test an instrument that evaluates the understanding of emotions (Test of Emotion Comprehension, TEC; Pons, Harris, & deRosnay, 2004;9 components) and competences in Theory of Mind (ToM; Peterson et al., 2012; 5 levels: various desires, diverse ideas, access to knowledge, false faith, hidden emotions) in deaf and hard of hearing children.

This instrument will be used in a subsequent project, the aim of which is to develop and evaluate a training programme (intervention) for deaf and hard of hearing children. In this project, the viability for deaf and hard of hearing children in spoken and signed language of these two tests was tested and at the same time these tests were carried out to determine whether the deaf and hard of hearing children score lower than their hearing peers.


Firstly, the two tests and the manual were translated into German and Swiss German sign language. Due to time constraints, the testing was not carried out by deaf teachers but it was evaluated within the research group. Hearing sign language proficient testers conducted the tests.

Twenty-one deaf and hard of hearing children were tested. They were aged between 6 and 11 years (M = 8.57, SD = 2.063) with hearing aids or CI. All are educated in deaf schools.

The deaf and hard of hearing children show a lower value for emotion understanding than hearing peers (values between 0 and 10; Mdhh = 5, SD = 1.95, hearing comparison sample of Göbel et al., 2016, Mh = 7.21, SD = 1.28). The same applies to ToM test values (values between 0 and 5; Mdhh = 3.62, SD = 1.50, hearing comparison sample from Peterson et al., Mh = 4.67, SD = 1.07). Only 52% of the deaf and hard of hearing group succeeds in the 1st stage «various desires» (hearing comparison sample 95%) and only 38% in «hidden emotions» (hearing 57%). The older the children are the higher their values are (as with hearing children).

It is strongly recommanded to take action. The findings of this study underpin the need for a specially designed intervention programme for deaf and hard of hearing children. In addition, it can be concluded that the tests used for this study can be also used with deaf and hard of hearing children, and not only for hearing children that were initially designed for.