Factors Which Influence Or Predict The Usage Of Internal State Language (ISL)

The ability to express one’s internal states is arguably one of the greatest gifts of being human. Not only is it a great gift, it is also fundamental to critical developmental processes which occur throughout early childhood and serve the critical function of helping to facilitate relationships with other human beings. The usage of internal state language (ISL) provides children opportunities to develop social cognition and is premised on the fact that, in order to use ISL children require somewhat of an understanding of internal mental states and how they may differ from person to person and over time (Howe, 1991). It stands to reason that since ISL reflects social knowledge and internal self-knowledge, the phenomenon can be measured through dyadic interactions (Howe, 1991., Howe et al.). The following literature review will present a variety of research which shed some light on the important factors which predict usage of ISL in children around the ages of 4-5. Thus the question is, which factors influence or predict usage of internal state language in childhood through dyadic play scenarios.

Howe, 1991 investigated children’s usage of ISL within the context of sibling dyads and mother-child dyads, with the focal child being either a preschooler or toddler. This study found that there were three main factors which influenced preschoolers’ usage of ISL. This study consisted of 32 child-mother dyads and sibling dyads from families with two children. The three factors that the author identified are context of relationship, preschooler’s ability to perspective take and level of affective behavior. Relationship context, in this case, referred to either having the mother present or siblings alone; the amount of references to internal states were found to occur more frequently within the sibling dyads. Preschoolers’ ability to perspective take was associated with more frequent references to wants, emotions and abilities than their counterparts who were less effective at perspective taking. Additionally, preschoolers who engaged in more positive affective behaviors were most likely to refer to internal states.

In sum, preschoolers who were most likely to refer to internal states were in their sibling dyad. They were better able to take different perspectives and demonstrated a higher degree of positive affect towards their siblings, which are associated with the construction of shared meaning (Howe et al., 2005). Howe, et al., 2005 examined 40 dyads whereby the focal children are of kindergarten age. Half of the total number of dyads included an older sibling while the other half included a younger sibling. They predicted that dyads who attempted to build shared meanings, for example would use more ISL. Results indicated that dyads who more frequently used shared meaning strategies in combination with positive affective behaviors used more ISL, in comparison to those who engaged in negative affective behaviors thus disturbing the play process, consistent with the finds of Howe, 1991. These results underline the role ISL has on maintaining shared meanings and further highlights the importance of ISL.

While Howe, 1991 found that there was a significant difference between childrens’ references to internal state language between mother-child dyads versus sibling dyads, Leach et al., 2015 found an interesting, complementary result. Leach et al., 2015’s study included 65 four-year-old children who were observed in play scenarios with dyads consisting of a focal child and either an older or younger sibling or a friend. The data were coded for shared meanings and internal state language. The results indicated that there was no difference between siblings and friends on the frequency of usage of internal state language, thus it appears that internal state language usage can be equally referenced among friend and sibling dyads however different from mother-child dyad play settings. Findings, however, also highlighted an important difference between friend and sibling relationships regarding references to internal state language. Firstly, in the child-sibling dyads, constructing shared meanings was positively correlated to the referencing of all sub-facets of internal state language, which included goals, emotions, cognitions and preferences.

In contrast, only two facets of internal state language, goals and emotions, were associated with shared meaning in the friend sessions. Thus illustrating that sibling relationships may illicit a greater variety of ISL in relation to shared meanings than do friend relationships. It appears that although both sibling and friend dyads are associated with the usage of ISL, sibling dyads were likely to utilize a greater ra onge of internal state expressions. Findings relating to the correlation between ISL and shared meaning are also consistent with findings from Howe et al., 2005. Howe et al., 1998 examined the usage of ISL in the context of pretend play in 40 sibling dyads identified as either frequent or non-frequent pretenders. It was hypothesized that dyads who engaged in more frequent pretend play might utilize more ISL, furthermore ISL will be used more frequently during negotiations. This result demonstrated that a higher degree of conflict within dyads predicted less usage of ISL. Additionally, as hypothesized dyads who engaged in more frequent pretend play utilized more ISL and dyads who engaged in high-level negotiations during frequent pretend play also utilized more ISL. Another finding that is of interest was that conflict was negatively correlated with the usage of emotion references, however regarding positive rapport, no significant correlations were found, counter to the results of studies mentioned above. These results show, therefore, that ISL is more likely to be employed during pretend play, during negotiations and is less likely to be employed where there are conflicts. Howe et al., 2014’s findings were in line with Howe et al, 1998 in that they demonstrated associations between ISL and collaborative and pretend play sessions. Taking these results further, they identified that, after controlling for sibling age, associations were identified between play themes and object use with ISL. Creative object transformation was positively correlated with measures of ISL.

In conclusion, from the research outlined above, there are a number of factors which influence or predict the usage of ISL. Firstly, play has been identified as a rich avenue for ISL. Secondly, play partner seems to impact the references to internal states with sibling relationships providing context for the most ISL to occur and with greater variety (ADD CIT). Thirdly, constructing shared meanings in play often facilitated ISL and vice versa. Fourthly, certain behaviors facilitate ISL whereas others may inhibit it.

03 December 2019
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