Pilar Luque and Rocío Ruiz, neuropsychologists at Ítaca Psicología y Lenguaje, explain in this article how they work on social cognition in children with NeuronUP.
Refers to the set of mental operations that underlie social interactions, emphasizing the ability to perceive, interpret, and generate responses to the intentions, emotions, tendencies, and behaviors of others. Social cognition in children enables them to understand the emotions, thoughts, intentions and social behaviors of others. In social interactions, knowing what other people think and feel can be a huge advantage for managing in that context.
Áreas y funciones de la cognición social
Las áreas y funciones que encontramos dentro de lo que categorizamos como cognición social son:
- Emotional processing, i.e., how we perceive emotions and recognize them. For example, the basic emotions according to the faces we see.
- Theory of mind or also called cognitive empathy. It is about making inferences about mental states.
- Social perception, which consists of the evaluation we make of social stimuli.
- Attributional style, which is the ability to make positive or negative evaluations of a certain event or situation (Ruiz, Garcia & Fuentes, 2006).
Importancia del lóbulo frontal
By way of explanation and function, in our brain, we can locate social cognition among one of the functions of the frontal lobe. This is formed by the orbital, medial and dorsolateral areas. It is where the executive functions and several aspects of human behavior are located. From this area, psychological processes are planned, controlled and regulated. Likewise, processes can be coordinated and selected and different options can be chosen, in terms of the different possible behaviors for the solution of the same problem.
We could locate in this system the influence of motivations and interests to reach a certain goal. In other words, the frontal lobe integrative system is where we can find the complex forms of the human being, his thoughts and behaviors (Lázaro & Solís, 2008).
The frontal lobe can be considered the “executive center of the brain”, so that an alteration in this system or the alteration of it has high consequences on behavior, emotion regulation and metacognition. In other words, executive functions (planning, behavioral control, mental flexibility, working memory, mentalization, fluency, social behavior and social cognition) are altered or diminished.
Social cognition in children’s lives
Given the importance of social cognition in our lives, it is essential to provide children with a space where they are taught through play to identify, express and adequately manage their emotions. In this way, resources are incorporated that little by little they can generalize to their daily life situations.
A child who has grown up with a good emotional education and social perception as a basis, will have a higher level of self-knowledge, improved management of emotions, greater empathy. In addition to being a more assertive person, with good social skills and a capacity for successful conflict resolution.
In short, social cognition is responsible for determining how we deal with every situation we face in our lives. That is why they play a fundamental role, especially in children’s lives. It is also key that they understand early on the importance of knowing, identifying and managing these crucial aspects in the lives of all of us.
Planning and tools to work on social cognition in children.
At Ítaca Psicología y Lenguaje, we work in different ways and depending on the age, this important part of life. Thanks to NeuronUP, we can facilitate understanding and learning in children.
NeuronUP activities for working on social cognition in children
Activities such as “Find the emotion” for children who have not yet acquired reading, are essential to begin to acquire the vocabulary and emotional knowledge. These are necessary to make children aware of the different sensations they can feel depending on the emotion they present.
In this activity, there is a model image and the purpose is to find, among several options, another image that represents the same emotion as the model. Thus, in addition to acquiring the concepts of equal/different, we learn to name the different facial expressions. In addition, we can put it into practice with the children in front of a mirror so that they can imitate and see their own expressions.
For older children with difficulties in social skills, the activities What do they Expect to Find? and What do they Believe other People Think? help them to reflect on the different opinions that people may have in the same situation. These activities work on first and second order false belief tasks, which are essential to achieve an adequate Theory of Mind.
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Theory of mind
It is the capacity to attribute mental states to others and to oneself. According to Astington, (1993) the discovery of the mind by the child refers to becoming aware that people, including himself, have a mind. Furthermore, within the states or elements of that mind we can find beliefs, feelings, thoughts, within which they perform their actions.
Within the Theory of Mind, we find:
First-order false belief task
Also known as the Unexpected Object Change Task (Wimmer & Perner, 1983). Which consists of understanding that the representation of the character is false with respect to a real situation.
This skill refers to the ability to detect when someone is being deceived, that is, to realize that the character in the story has a false belief about the situation. The act of realizing that someone has been deceived produces the ability to differentiate between one’s own mental states and those of others. In addition, to become aware that other organisms different from himself have mental states of belief. According to the studies that investigate this fact, it is around the age of 4 when the learning of this task is acquired.
With NeuronUP, we can work on the First Order False Belief Task with the activity What do they Expect to Find?, since it presents scenes described where a character finds something he does not expect and then comes to perform the same action. Here is where the child is asked what the first character thinks the second character is going to find. With this, the child is able to reflect and put himself in the place of both characters in a differentiated way.
Second-order false belief task
On the other hand, there is the second-order false belief task (Sullivan et al. 1994). Like the first-order false belief task, these tasks require the ability to comprehend a false belief. However, while the first one refers to a lived situation, this second one consists of the ability to guess the mental state of one of the people in the story. Thus, in the second-order false belief task, the children’s ability to take into account that people can think about the thoughts of others, an essential aspect of social relationships, is observed.
The activity “What do they think others think?” is similar to the one described above, but with the goal of having children reflect on the thoughts of one character in relation to what they think the other character in the story thinks.
In summary, with these exercises we can see how, in addition to the visual appeal of the NeuronUP activities, they are easily applicable to real situations. In Ithaca we take advantage of these exercises to ask the child about similar situations in their daily life and generalize the work so that it acquires ecological validity and serves as learning that can be applied to their daily life.
Lázaro, J. C. F., & Solís, F. O. (2008). Neuropsychology of frontal lobes, executive functions and human behavior. Journal neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry and neurosciences, 8(1), 47-58.
Astington, JW (1993). The child’s discovery of the mind (Vol. 31). Harvard University Press.
Wimmer, H. and Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: representation and constraining role of erroneous beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition , 13 (1), 103-128.