The relation between theory of mind and empathy in preschool: the case of fantasy orientation
The purpose of the present study was to explore the relations between theory of mind, empathy, and fantasy orientation in a typically developing preschool population. Preschool children between the ages of 3 and 5 (N = 82) completed a battery of theory of mind, empathy, and fantasy orientation measures. Teacher reports were also collected. As hypothesized, results indicated that 3-year-olds were likely to have neither theory of mind nor affective empathy, 4-year-olds were likely to have theory of mind only, and 5-year-olds were likely to have both, supporting the notion that theory mind precedes affective empathy. Additionally, results indicated that fantasy orientation predicted affective empathy above and beyond theory of mind ability. Corroboration was found for past research showing that fantasy orientation is comprised of different components. No support was found for the hypothesis that fantasy orientation moderates the relationship between theory of mind and empathy, nor for the hypothesis that it fosters faster and/or better development of the two constructs. Results are discussed in terms of their contribution to the present debate on determining whether pretend play plays a crucial, equifinal, or epiphenomenal role in child development.