BA (Adelaide), PhD (California)
(Deceased), 2022-06-10


Candida Peterson’s academic legacy is defined by her career-long commitment to understanding the social and cognitive development of young children with and without sensory or developmental disabilities. Her research examined how conversation, communication, and cultural learning in the context of close personal relationships, contribute to children’s developing understanding of others through a Theory of Mind. Her discoveries have shaped international debates about nature-versus-nurture in developmental psychology and cognitive science, and the practical implications of her discoveries meant that she was widely consulted for professional and policy advice, especially pertaining to the early social-cognitive development of children with deafness or autism. 

Professor Peterson’s academic career began with an Assistant Professorship at Northern Illinois University (1971-1975) after which she returned to Australia, where she grew up. She was a teaching and research academic at Murdoch University (1976-1990) and then at the University of Queensland, where she worked from 1991 until her retirement and transition to an Emerita Professorship in 2015. 

From the 1980s, Professor Peterson built lasting associations with fellow academics and institutions around the world and particularly in China and Japan, resulting in particularly close ties with esteemed scholars including Professor Wang Zhong Ming of the University of Hangzhou, and the late Professor Hatano Giyoo of the Open University of Japan.

Over the course of her career, Professor Peterson authored more than 140 scholarly publications which have been cited more than 5500 times on Scopus and continue to attract over 300 citations annually. The significance of her research was recognized with a number of academic honours, including election to the executive of the International Society for the Study of Behaviour Development, and invited membership of the editorial boards of Child Development Perspectives and the Journal of Cognition & Development. She was elected Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1997, an honour she cherished. She was an active FASSA, serving on the Academy Executive from 1998-2004.

*Obituary written by Kim Peterson


Dr Candida Peterson was Professor of Psychology at the University of Queensland, conducting research into the role of communication processes in family relationships and social-cognitive development. Dr Peterson's research included:

  • the development of a theory of mind in deaf children with other cognitive and sensory impairments
  • parent-adolescent communication and conflict resolution
  • the development of an understanding of lying and its social consequences through the life span
  • children's understanding of biology and culture as a basis for family resemblance.

  • Peterson, C. and Siegal, M. (2000) Insights into theory of mind from deafness and autism, Mind and Language 15:123-145.
  • Peterson, C. and Siegal, M. (1999) Representing inner worlds: Theories of mind in deaf, autistic and normal hearing children, Psychological Science 10:126-129.
  • Siegal, M. and Peterson, C.C. (1999) Children's understanding of biology, health and ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peterson, C. and Siegal (1998) Changing focus on the representational mind: Concepts of false photographs, false drawings and false beliefs in deaf, autistic and normal children, British Journal of Developmental Psychology 16:301-320.
  • Peterson, C.C. (1996) Looking forward through the life span: Developmental psychology (3rd ed.). Sydney: Prentice-Hall.