Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Theory of Mind Development and Moral Judgment as Differential Predictors of Aggressive and Prosocial Behaviors in a Normative Preschool Sample

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Marie Tisak (Advisor)

Second Advisor

John Tisak (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Susannah Cleveland (Other)


The present study examined the relations between Theory of Mind and moral development as they impact specific aggressive behaviors and prosociality in preschoolers. Social-Cognitive and Social-Cognitive Domain Theory suggest that behavior should be considered a function of personal factors and environment, whereby each of these three facets impact and interact with one another, especially during the development of moral understanding. The current conceptualized hypothesized that moral judgment would predict socio-moral cognition, and – separately – that inhibitory control would predict Theory of Mind; additionally, a moderation of socio-moral cognition was posed on the expected relation from Theory of Mind to social outcomes. One hundred seventy-six preschoolers (Ma=53.3 months) completed measures of inhibitory control, moral understanding, morally imbedded Theory of Mind, verbal skills, and a traditional Theory of Mind battery consisting of five tasks. In addition, teacher- and child self-report data were collected for four specific aspects of aggressive behavior, and prosociality. The proposed model was a good fit to the data using teacher-report data. Results indicate that for children high in mental state understanding, applied moral cognitive development influences teacher-rated prosociality, such that those who were better able to understand another’s motive tended to be less prosocial—for those without motive understanding, there was no relation from ToM on prosocial behavior. Implications are discussed in regards to theoretical development and previous empirical findings.