Mind reading skills and empathy: Evidence for nice and nasty ToM behaviours in school-aged children.


We investigated the social use of theory of mind in school-aged children. The expressions Nice Theory of Mind and Nasty Theory of Mind are used to differentiate behaviours requiring a prosocial use and an antisocial use of ToM abilities respectively. Our goals was to investigate whether and how mind reading abilities and empathy affect nice and nasty ToM behaviours. One hundred and ninety-seven children who were fourth and fifth graders took part in this study. Participants were administered stories that assessed cognitive, affective or moral mental state reasoning abilities and they also completed a self-report measure of empathy. Teachers’ rating on children’s prosocial and antisocial behaviours that underpin ToM abilities led us to identify nice and nasty ToM behaviours. We found that children who engage in nasty ToM behaviour showed good abilities to understand others’ thoughts and beliefs. However, children with nice ToM behaviour showed more moral and emotional sensitivity as compared to children who engage in nasty ToM behaviour. Furthermore, the hot component of empathy is stronger in fostering prosocial behaviours and inhibiting antisocial acts than cognitive component.