The cost of understanding other people: social cognition predicts young children's sensitivity to criticism

A L Cutting, J Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Individual differences in sensitivity to teacher criticism, and their links with individual differences in social cognition, were examined in 141 young children from diverse family backgrounds. Methods: Children's sensitivity to teacher criticism was assessed in their first year of school (mean age 5.13 years), using a puppet scenario in which a teacher criticises the child for making an error in school work. Understanding of false belief and mixed emotions was assessed at the same time. One hundred and thirteen of the children had been seen one year earlier in preschool, when comprehensive assessments were made of false belief and emotion understanding. Results: Individual differences were apparent in children's sensitivity to teacher criticism, which were correlated with individual differences in both preschool and concurrent social cognition: children with more advanced social cognition were more sensitive to teacher criticism. Regression analyses showed that preschool social cognition was especially important, explaining unique variance in sensitivity to criticism over and above variance accounted for by concurrent sociocognitive ability. Conclusions: The results suggest that there are costs as well as benefits to understanding other people, at least for young children, and that individual differences in early social cognition may have distinct developmental trajectories. These issues, along with implications for research into children's responses to criticism and failure, are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849 - 860
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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