Young children's storybooks as a source of mental state information

Jennifer R. Dyer, Marilyn Shatz, Henry M. Wellman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ninety children's books (half for 3–4-year-olds and half for 5–6-year-olds) were analyzed for references to mental state in three ways: (a) via words and expressions in the text, (b) via the pictures, and (c) via ironic situations. Books for older children were significantly longer than the books for younger children, and overall, they included both a higher frequency of mental state references and a wider variety of such references. However, the rate of textual references to mental state was high for both groups, with a mental state token occurring on average every three sentences in books for both age groups. Moreover, the rate at which new types of mental state references appeared was also high; about every second token represented a new type of mental state reference. Pictures typically failed to represent independently the mental state concepts expressed in the text, but pictures and text together conveyed situational irony in over one-third of the books. Thus, mental state information was largely conveyed via words and irony. These findings suggest that storybook reading may provide even young children with a rich context for developing an understanding of mind.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalCognitive Development
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Mental state
  • Children
  • Storybook


  • Children's and Young Adult Literature
  • Cognitive Psychology

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