Reduced neural selectivity for mental states in deaf children with delayed exposure to sign language.Nat Commun. 2020 06 26; 11(1):3246.NC
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.