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Executive function and theory of mind as predictors of aggressive and prosocial behavior and peer acceptance in early childhood

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Social Development

Published online on


Executive function (EF) and theory of mind (ToM) are related to children's social interactions, such as aggression and prosocial behavior, as well as their peer acceptance. However, limited research has examined different forms of aggression and the moderating role of gender. This study investigated links between EF, ToM, physical and relational aggression, prosocial behavior and peer acceptance and explored whether these relations are gender specific. Children (N = 106) between 46‐ and 80‐months‐old completed tasks assessing cool and hot EF and ToM. Teaching staff rated children's aggression, prosocial behavior, and peer acceptance. EF and ToM predicted physical, but not relational, aggression. Poor inhibition and delay of gratification were uniquely associated with greater physical aggression. EF and ToM did not predict prosocial behavior or peer acceptance. Added to this, gender did not moderate the relation between either EF or ToM and social outcomes. The correlates of aggression may therefore differ across forms of aggression but not between genders in early childhood.