Theories of Theories of Mind

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While the emergence of a theory of mind tends to follow a fairly predictable sequence over the course of normal development, sometimes things go wrong. Theory of mind problems can have a range of serious complications. When people struggle to understand mental states, social relationships and interactions can suffer. Researchers Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have suggested that theory of mind problems are one of the hallmarks of autism.

Theories of Mind and Consciousness

In a study, they looked at how children with autism performed on theory of mind tasks compared to children with Down syndrome as well as neurotypical children. They found that while around 80 percent of children who were neurotypical or who had Down syndrome were able to answer theory of mind questions correctly, only around 20 percent of children who had been diagnosed with autism were able to correctly answer such questions. This problem with perspective-taking and understanding the thoughts of others is thought to contribute to the difficulty that those with Autism spectrum disorders have with some types of social interactions.

Studies have also shown that people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia often also demonstrate theory of mind deficits. One meta-analysis involving more than 1, participants showed significant impairments in theory of mind among those with schizophrenia. These participants showed problems with both the ability to understand false beliefs as well as the ability to infer the intentions of others.

Forming a theory of mind is critical in our ability to understand ourselves and others. This ability to understand mental states allows people to introspect and consider their own thought and mental states. Such self-awareness is important in the formation of a strong sense of self.

Our social functioning also hinges on having a theory of mind. By being able to think about what other people are thinking, we can better understand others and predict what they might do next. Have you ever wondered what your personality type means? Sign up to get these answers, and more, delivered straight to your inbox. Age and gender dependent development of theory of mind in 6- to 8-years old children. Frontier in Human Neuroscience. DOI: Online usage of theory of mind continues to develop in late adolescence.

Theory of mind in schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry. Sequential progressions in a theory of mind scale: Longitudinal perspectives. Child Dev. More in Theories. View All. The understanding that the reasons why people might want something i. False Belief Tasks for Measuring Theory of Mind How does the false belief tasks that are often used in psychology experiments work?

In the "Sally-Anne test," one of the most frequently used false-belief scenarios, children are shown two dolls named Sally and Anne: Sally has a basket while Anne has a box. Sally places a marble in her basket and then leaves the room. While she is gone, Anne takes the marble from the basket and puts it in the box. When Sally returns, children who have watched this scenario are asked where they think Sally will look for the marble. Second, and closely related, Zunshine is quick to announce the autistic subject as having an "impaired" theory of mind Indeed, in much of her scholarly work, Zunshine bases her theorization of non-autistic ToM upon autistic people's decided lack thereof.

In Strange Concepts , for example, she makes a considered distinction between the ToM failures that make one human and the ToM failures that make one autistic:. Still interpreting someone's mental state incorrectly is very different from not being able to conceive that there is a mental state behind the observable behavior. The former happens to all of us , the latter only to people with neurological disorders within the autism spectrum. Here I would ask: Where is the autistic body? What room is there for autistic agency in such a construction? When non-autistic people misinterpret the motives and mental states of others, they are simply human, but when autistic people misinterpret the motives and mental states of others, they lack a theory of mind?

What's more, Zunshine's configuration fails to consider that autistic people themselves have their own unique mental states, beliefs, and desires. As autistic writer Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg so pointedly asks, Theory of whose mind? Why is our ToM failure a pathology and theirs what makes them human?

My current observable behavior is that of a body rocking against a bedroom wall, elbows grating against books as they sway back and forth, back and forth. What is my mental state? Do I have a mental state? Such dichotomous constructions—that of the human vs. The absence of a body suggests that violence cannot be done to it. The absence of a body is the erasure of the violence done to it. But the fact remains that I am the ultimate unreliable narrator. As I write this, I am trying to conjure one token example—one unifying story that will make plain the ways in which others hold my narratives with inherent skepticism, the ways in which my lack of ethos charts pathological heights, the ways in which others write my bodymind into untrustworthy oblivion, into fundamental nonexistence.

But I cannot frame one example because such examples abound beyond count. They permeate my life. They borderline define my life. Do I recount the faculty member who introduced me as a "special guest" while introducing my colleagues by their professorial titles and lengthy bios? Do I recount the social workers who informed me that I only disliked the autism flick Adam because my ToM deficit prevented me from understanding the suffering of family members?

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Do I recount the Autism Society officer who told me that I could refer to myself as autistic if I wanted, but to her and her chapter, I would always be a "person first"—that is, a person with autism? Do I recount the psychologist who told me that I didn't really miss my deceased friend because autistic people cannot form human attachments?

Do I recount the neuropsychologist who repeatedly called me "stupid" because she believed that I didn't have emotions and therefore would not "feel" her hatred? Do I recount my forced hospitalization? Childhood bullying? Dropping out of high school? Do I recount the blogger who implied that I was involuntarily committed because I was a James Holmes waiting to happen? Do I recount these things? I ask this question on two levels. First, which to recount? And second, can I actually recount, can I actually remember and reliably relay these things to you, my reader?

Are my feelings to be trusted? Can someone without a body have feelings? Can someone without a body be subject to abuse? Can someone who lacks a theory of mind accurately narrate the lives and actions and abuses of others? Can she narrate her own life? Denying the rhetoricity of autistic people and questioning the reliability of their narratives are tropes that permeate scholarly literature. Of autie-biographies, they argue, "While the accounts are intriguing, it might be a mistake to take what is said at face value" David Williams likewise maintains that autie-biography should be held suspect.

Arguing that autistic people have both impaired ToM and impaired episodic memory, he offers the following warning: "self-reports offered by individuals with autism only challenge the notion that this disorder involves a diminished theory of own mind if those reports are accurate " ; emphasis in Williams. And so, autistic people exemplify inherent unreliability. Whether in published autobiographies or in the blogosphere, autistic narratives are regarded as questionable un truths. The value of my essay should not be overrated. But I need not rely on my own narrative to demonstrate how such theorists and theories and theorizing implicate the autistic body into systemic violence.

Such narratives abound in the blogosphere and published accounts of autistic lives. For example, autistic blogger Julia Bascom recounts a story from her adolescence, the first moment when she concretely recognized that her peers had mental states and lascivious intentions, separate from those of her own. Wryly, she declares that she developed her theory of mind at the age of thirteen, while in gym class.

Writes Bascom,. A lot of things changed with that realization. I'd never gained any information from eye contact, but now it terrified me. I'd been abused by my peers, but now I realized that there was a persistent mental component as well. That they wanted to hurt me. They thought about me being confused and scared, and they liked it. Bascom's definition of ToM is highly embodied and highly brutal. What Baron-Cohen and his ilk name theory of mind, she names theory of war or, ToW. For to have a theory of mind is to have a theory of how theory of mind theorists violently remove the autistic body—and it is likewise to have that violent removal denied.

For how, after all, can an autistic have a body? And so, the autistic bodymind is inconsequential, fundamentally nonexistent. And violence is enabled in nonexistent spaces. Typically in the autobiographical accounts we find relatively little about people's feelings or attitudes. In the land of ToM, what matters are the "feelings and attitudes" of the non-autistic. Abusers cannot abuse if they have feelings and attitudes, while the subjects of their abuse are little more than disembodied objects.

What we have is Bascom's theory of war, or ToW. What we have is a system that favors teaching autistics "diplomacy" via intense behavioral therapy over reinventing the ableist structures that deny us personhood, ableist structures that emblemize systemic violence. As autistic writer Kassiane Sibley pleads, "They [non-autistics] are afraid I might not be nice to them. My argument here is that theories about ToM impact the autistic bodymind in material and violent ways. My argument here is that denying autistic selfhood and denying autistic corporeality and denying autistic rhetoricity reifies systemic abuse and ableism.

My argument here is that autistic people have come to represent a tidily bounded limit case that signifies what it means to be inhuman—all in the name of empiricism, all in the name of ToM. The layers surrounding systemic abuse and autism go very deep, and I do not mean to suggest here that ToM is the only ToW that subjugates and discards autistic bodies. What I am suggesting is that theories about ToM signify a meta-narrative for such violence: they enable the violence, they explain the violence, they defend the violence.

ToM's staying power takes shape in its robust interdisciplinarity, in its confluence with other markers of autistic experience, ranging from clinical approaches to diagnosis and gender, to what it means to have a language, and on to the ways in which our social structures support segregation over community inclusion. In many respects, humanistic disciplines—philosophy, narrative studies, gender studies—should be our allies in disability studies. As Simi Linton , 6 argued in Claiming Disability , the humanities represent a potentially hospitable home for DS, given their historical emphases on narrative-based inquiry and their intersections with other cultural studies fields.

And so my own response here, especially given the topic of this special issue, is to assert feminist rhetorical response as one robust mode for dismantling theories about ToM. And yet, writ large, feminist scholars have said surprisingly little about ToM, an absence that reifies ToM and its entrenchment in systemic oppression, gender binaries, and ableist stereotypes. And more, as Marie-Laure Ryan has suggested, there has been a cognitive turn in narrative studies, rhetorical studies, and other humanistic fields. Likewise, Ryan argues, this cognitive turn is not mutually directed across disciplines.

Narratologists employ cognitive theories such as theories about ToM in their own work, and yet little evidence suggests that cognitive theorists or psychology researchers do the same with narrative studies scholarship. Theories about ToM, then, become a funneling mechanism of sorts. This funneling effect—toward science, toward empiricism—is one reason why I suggest feminist rhetorical studies as a means for not only dissecting, but eliminating, the ableism and violence that so frequently attend theories of ToM.

Kristie Fleckenstein's work on feminist rhetorical practices and the politics of embodiment, for example, might provide one location from which we can dismantle theories about ToM and its "hierarchy of bodies" , There is likewise Jordynn Jack's scholarship on matters more explicitly autism-related—in particular, her incisive analysis of Baron-Cohen's sexist conflation of ToM deficits and the "extreme male brain. They also offer vindication—that autistics have bodies. As Paul Heilker and I have argued, there already exist theoretical tools at our disposal to further the work of disability rights.

Feministic attention to the body, feministic attention to rhetorical silences and webs of oppression—why have we not considered these things against theories about ToM? I highlight rhetorical studies as a potential feministic location for resistance to the disembodiment of autistic people because, as I have narrated throughout, theories about ToM implicitly draw upon the rhetorical condition.

In my own disembodiment—gurney-style, classroom-style, hospitalization-style—I draw upon the topoi that I know. And what I know is that rhetoric is everything and everywhere, except for when it comes to autism. Feminist rhetorical studies have often worked in the service of recovering minority rhetors and examining institutionalized oppression Johnson But so too do feminist rhetorical studies provide us means and method for examining the complex interplay of body, self, mind, narrative, and being. Just as I could not narrate my way out of forced hospitalization, I cannot narrate myself out of theories about ToM.

No autistic can. Empiricists can explain away any autistic display of ToM. Writes David Williams ,. The point here is that, without empirical confirmation, we need to be cautious about self-reported memories of early mental state understanding amongst individuals with a disorder that is known to be associated with impairments in theory of mind and episodic memory.

Autistic being is predicated on un-being. In order to claim an emotion, we need to have it empirically validated. In the same way that autism represents an epistemological boundary for the in human condition, I would suggest that ToM represents an epistemological boundary for dis narrative. That is, given ToM's location in cognitive science and other philosophical inquiry, and given that its existence is based upon both absolutisms and empirical study , ToM signifies a site that is inherently distrustful of narrative—or, at least, disabled narrative.

Autistic writer Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, editor of the Autism and Empathy website, is one among many who have questioned these reductionist and dehumanizing tendencies of theories about ToM. Hundreds of posts and comments on the site, most written by autistic people, document the ways in which theories about ToM erode autistic personhood. In an open letter to the blogosphere, Baron-Cohen defends theories about ToM with the following:.

As a working scientist, all I can do is summarize the empirical evidence. But scientists have a duty to report what they find, openly, since science is conducted in the pursuit of truth. And so, dichotomies abound. Theories about ToM represent truth ; theories about autistic personhood do not. In response, Cohen-Rottenberg says as much:. I'm not talking about someone hurting my feelings, as Simon [Baron-Cohen] implies. What I'm concerned about are ill-conceived definitions and unwarranted conclusions that have the potential to cause tremendous suffering for autistic people at the hands of the larger world.

Autistic people face lives of substandard care, isolation, and abuse because we are considered to have been born without a core component of humanity. It is easy to debunk systemic abuse as "hurt feelings" when one can claim that the subjects in question are incapable of emotional regulation, self-awareness, empathy, diplomacy, or socially appropriate responses.

In such a construction, Cohen-Rottenberg and other autistics possess no rhetorical defense: they dwell in a world of mindless skin-bags, a life of utter interiority, an arhetorical wonderland of disempathy. But, as Cohen-Rottenberg points out, the stakes in theories about ToM are worlds beyond hurt feelings and hurt people. What is at stake are the lives and livelihood of autistic people. Rather than acknowledge the potential for harm, ToM theorists have instead propagated a clinically-sanctioned silencing of autistic people on a large scale.

For example, autistic writer Selene dePackh describes the ways in which autistic people have been victimized by hate crimes. And yet, in response to dePackh's urgent pleas for radical social change, Daniel Torisky , a non-autistic parent, offered an article with the following title: "I've Never Met Anyone Who Hates Those with Autism. Torisky's essay is an iconic representation of Bascom's ToW, of Cohen-Rottenberg's exhortations against unwarranted conclusions. As a non-autistic, Torisky's ToM is so beyond reproach that he can denounce the existence of autistic abuse with his essay title alone, and—this is important— he is believed.

An autistic person cannot experience abuse, cannot feel her body being shoved against the cold wall of a hospital psych ward—an autistic person cannot experience systemic violence unless a non-autistic person validates those claims. ToM theorists, whether their theories operate on the printed page or in the throes of diagnostic assessment, are complicit in the systemic oppression of autistic people. The rhetorician who hypothesizes that her student is autistic because he lacks audience awareness is complicit.

The philosopher who suggests that autistic people cannot live a "good life" because they lack empathy is complicit.

Theories of Theory of Mind: Entry

The parent who suggests that I cannot understand the "grasp" of autism because I lack introspective ability is complicit. The journalist who suggests that autistic people should be institutionalized because they are emotionally impaired is complicit. The stakes are more than hurt. The stakes involve accuracy at its core.

ToM is defined by a negative; it relies on a fallacious, circular construction. We know that autistic people lack a ToM because non-autistic people have a ToM; we know that non-autistic people have a ToM because autistic people lack a ToM. This is the state of our knowing—this is where empiricism has led us.

Where might a feministic, rhetorical, embodied, disability-positive understanding of autism lead us? What of this skin and bones? As I write this essay, I am preparing myself for the inevitable onslaught of letters suggesting that I cannot understand what ToM means because I lack a ToM. I reflect upon it daily, even though I supposedly lack the capacity to do so. I reflect upon it as I write this. I reflect upon it as I suggest the potentiality of feminist rhetorics as a heuristic that could prevent it from happening again.

I reflect upon it as I urge more scholars to take on this work, as I urge practitioners and clinicians and teachers to listen to autistic people, as I urge society writ large to grant us our humanity. I reflect upon it always, sometimes perseveratively, sometimes echolalically, but mostly perseveratively. I recently dreamed that I was forced into a special education class for assistant professors, my three-inch Autistic Pride button affixed to my backpack, bloodstained and visible. This dream was a waking dream, an unrestful dream, a dream filled with groans and body twitches.

The button was how I knew I had a body; the wakefulness was how I knew I had a voice. Melanie Yergeau is an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan. Abstract This essay is an autie-ethnographic narrative that traces the problems with and limits of theory of mind ToM as it is currently constructed in psychology and cognitive studies. Admittance During my second week as a new faculty member, I was involuntarily committed to the psych ward at the university hospital.

This was my reality, and my reality soon spiraled into the progressive tense, into something like this: —They were strapping me down on a gurney. Theory of whose mind? And so, I am writing this essay, presumably unaware of my reader and my non self. This is just my autism talking, spewing like a ruptured sieve. I am cognitively conditioned to be ephemeral and idiosyncratic.

Where is my body? Restraint I am going places with this. I am rolling down a hallway with this. I am tied to a gurney. I am imprisoned in a room with this. I am not imprisoned in my body with this—unless the medical charts say that I am. Theory of war I am the ultimate unreliable narrator. Where is the body in theory of mind? Rhetorical being, rhetorical fact Who can fight with "empirical fact"? References Aristotle. These correct answers provide evidence that the child realizes that Sally does not know that the toy has been moved, and so will act upon a false belief.

Many younger children, typically 3-year-olds, fail such a task, often asserting that Sally will look for the toy in the place where it was moved. The finding that mentalistic skills emerge very early, in the first years, and in a way relatively independent from the development of other cognitive abilities, led some scholars for example, Simon Baron-Cohen, Jerry Fodor, Alan Leslie to conceive them as the end-state of the endogenous maturation of an innate theory-of-mind module or system of modules.

This contrasted with the view of other researchers for example, Alison Gopnik, Josef Perner, Henry Wellman , who maintained that the intuitive theory of mind develops in childhood in a manner comparable to the development of scientific theories. They argue that the body of knowledge underlying mindreading has all the structural, functional and dynamic features that, on their view, characterize most scientific theories.

One of the most important features is defeasibility. The child-scientist theory inherits from Piaget not only the constructivist framework but also the idea that the cognitive development is a process that depends on a d omain-general learning mechanism. A domain-general or general-purpose psychological structure is one that can be used to do problem solving across many different content domains; it contrasts with a domain-specific psychological structure, which is dedicated to solving a restricted class of problems in a restricted content domain see Samuels Another theory-theorist who endorses a domain-general conception of cognitive development is Josef Perner Children are situation theorists by the age of around 2 years.

Thus Perner suggests that children first learn to understand the properties of public pictorial and linguistic representations; only in a second moment they extend, through a process of analogical reasoning, these characteristics to mental representations. On this perspective, then, the concept of belief is the product of a domain-general metarepresentational capacity that includes but is not limited to metarepresentation of mental states. But for criticism, see Harris , who argues that pretence and belief are very different and are readily distinguished by context by 3-year olds.

Inside the module the body of information can be stored as a suite of domain-specific computational mechanisms; or as a system of domain-specific representations; or in both ways see Simpson et al. Studies of children and adults in diverse cultures, human infants, and non-human primates provide evidence for at least four systems of knowledge that serve to represent significant aspects of the environment: inanimate objects and their motions; agents and their goal-directed actions; places and their geometric relations; sets and their approximate numerical relation.

The question arises, then, whether the domain-specific body of information that subserves mentalistic abilities is the database of either a domain-specific or domain-general computational system. In some domains, a domain-specific computational mechanism and a domain-specific body of information can form a single mechanism for example, a parser is very likely to be a domain-specific computational mechanism that manipulates a domain-specific data structure. Children suffering from this neurodevelopmental disorder exhibit a triad of impairments: social incompetence, poor verbal and nonverbal communicative skills, and a lack of pretend play.

This hypothesis was investigated in an experiment in which typically developing 4-year-olds, children with autism 12 years; IQ 82 , and children with Down syndrome 10 years; IQ 64 were tested on the Sally and Ann false-belief task. In support of this hypothesis, he cites inter alia his analysis of pretend play that would show that month-old children are able to metarepresent the propositional attitude of pretending.

This analysis results, however, in an immediate empirical problem. If the ToMM is fully functional at 18 months, why are children unable to successfully perform false-belief tasks until they are around 4 years old? Since, by default, the ToMM attributes a belief with content that reflects current reality, to succeed in a false-belief task this default attribution must be inhibited and an alternative nonfactual content for the belief selected instead.

In contrast, autistic children are at or near ceiling on the non-mental metarepresentational tests but fail false-belief tasks. Normal 4-year-olds can succeed in all these tasks. If this were right, then autistic children should have difficulty with both kinds of representations. And in fact Perner suggests that the autistic deficit is due to a genetic impairment of the mechanisms that subserve attention shifting, a damage that interferes with the formation of the database required for the development of a theory of representation in general.

In support of this interpretation, fMRI studies showed that activity in the right temporo-parietal junction is high while participants are thinking about false beliefs, but no different from resting levels while participants are thinking about outdated photographs or false maps or signs.

Leslie recruits new data to support his claim that mental metarepresentational abilities emerge from a specialized neurocognitive mechanism that matures during the second year of life. During the s and s most of the work in Theory of Mind was concerned with the mechanisms that subserve the attribution of psychological states to others third-person mindreading.

In the last decade, however, an increasing number of psychologists and philosophers have also proposed accounts of the mechanisms underlying the attribution of psychological states to oneself first-person mindreading. For most theory-theorists, first-person mindreading is an interpretative activity that depends on mechanisms that capitalize on the same theory of mind used to attribute mental states to other agents. However, when explicitly asked about the motivations causes of their actions, the subjects did not hesitate to state, sometimes with great eloquence, their very reasonable motives.

Nisbett and Wilson explained this pattern of results by arguing that the subjects did not have any direct access to the real causes of their attitudes and behavior; rather, they engaged in an activity of confabulation , that is, they exploited a priori causal theories to develop reasonable but imaginary explanations of the motivational factors of their attitudes and behavior see also Johansson et al. For example, since TT assumes that first-person and third-person mentalistic attributions are both subserved by the same theory of mind, it predicts that if the theory is not yet equipped to solve certain third-person false-belief problems, then the child should also be unable to perform the parallel first-person task.

See also the above-cited Wellman et al. Data from autism have also been used to motivate the claim that first-person and third-person mentalistic attribution has a common basis. The study showed marked qualitative differences in introspection in the autistic subjects: unlike normal subjects who report several different phenomenal state types—including inner verbalisation, visual images, unsymbolised thinking, and emotional feelings—the first two autistic subjects reported visual images only; the third subject could report no inner experience at all.

Thus, evidence from social psychology, development psychology and cognitive neuropsychiatry makes a case for a symmetrical account of self-knowledge. However, insofar as Nisbett and Wilson do not propose any hypothesis about this alleged direct self-knowledge, their theory is incomplete. In order to offer an account of this supposedly direct self-knowledge, some philosophers made a more or less radical return to various forms of Cartesianism, construing first-person mindreading as a process that permits the access to at least some mental phenomena in a relatively direct and non-interpretative way.

The inside access view comes in various forms. Moreover, both the attribution of a mental state and the inferences that one can make about it can be referred to oneself or other people. Thus, we get four possible operations: first- and third-person detection, first- and third-person reasoning. Since the MM theory assumes that first-person mindreading does not involve mechanisms of the sort that figure in third-person mindreading, it implies that the first capacity should be dissociable, both diachronically and synchronically, from the second.

For example, children are capable of attributing knowledge and ignorance to themselves before they are capable of attributing those states to others Wimmer et al. The MM theory provides a neo-Cartesian reply to TT—and especially to its eliminativist implications inasmuch as the mentalistic self-attributions based on MMs are immune to the potentially distorting influence of our intuitive theory of psychology. However, the MM theory faces at least two difficulties. To start with, the theory must tell us how MM establishes which attitude type or percept type a given mental state belongs to Goldman A possibility is that there is a separate MM for each propositional attitude type and for each perceptual modality.

But then, as Engelbert and Carruthers remark, since any MM can be selectively impaired, the MM theory predicts a multitude of dissociations—for example, subjects who can self-attribute beliefs but not desires, or visual experiences but not auditory ones, and so on. However, the hypothesis of such a massive dissociability has little empirical plausibility. Moreover, Carruthers has offered a book-length argument against the idea of a direct access to propositional attitudes. But the system receives no input from the systems that generate propositional attitude events like judging and deciding.

Consequently, the mindreading system cannot directly self-attribute propositional attitude events; it must infer them by exploiting the perceptual input together with the outputs of various memory systems.


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Our only form of access to those events is via self-interpretation, turning our mindreading faculty upon ourselves and engaging in unconscious interpretation of our own behavior, physical circumstances, and sensory events like visual imagery and inner speech. Until the mids the debate on the nature of mindreading was a debate between the different variants of TT.

In Alvin Goldman and Paul Harris began to contribute to this new approach to mindreading. In , Goldman provided the most thoroughly developed, empirically supported defense of a simulationist account of our mentalistic abilities. According to ST, our third-person mindreading ability does not consist in implicit theorizing but rather in representing the psychological states and processes of others by mentally simulating them, that is, attempting to generate similar states and processes in ourselves.

Thus, the same resources that are used in our own psychological states and processes are recycled—usually but not only in imagination—to provide an understanding of psychological states and processes of the simulated target. In order for a mindreader to engage in this process of imaginative recycling, various information processing mechanisms are needed. The mindreader simulates the psychological etiology of the actions of the target in essentially two steps.

First, the simulator generates pretend or imaginary mental states in her own mind which are intended to at least partly correspond to those of the target. Hence follows one of the main advantages ST is supposed to have over TT—namely its computational parsimony. According to advocates of ST, the body of tacit folk-psychological knowledge which TT attributes to mindreaders imposes too heavy a burden on mental computation. In the early years of the debate over ST, a main focus was on its implications for the controversy between intentional realism and eliminative materialism.

Gordon and Goldman suggested that by rejecting the assumption that folk psychology is a theory, ST undercuts eliminativism. For ST does not deny the evident fact that human beings have intuitions about the mental, and neither rules out that such intuitions might be systematized by building, as David Lewis suggests, a theory that implies them.

One of the main objections that theory-theorists raise against ST is the argument from systematic errors in prediction. It is no surprise that a folk theory that is incomplete, partial, and in many cases seriously defective often causes predictive failures. More recently, however, a consensus seems to be emerging to the effect that mindreading involves both TT and ST.

Common assumptions among theories of mind

Now, theory definitely plays a role in high-level mindreading. In a prediction task, for example, theory may be involved in the selection of the imaginary inputs that will be introduced into the executive system. In this case, Goldman 44 admits, mindreading depends on the cooperation of simulation and theorizing mechanisms.

And it is right to say that now the debate aims first of all to establish to what extent and in which processes theory or simulation prevails. On his view, first-person mindreading both ontogenetically precedes and grounds third-person mindreading. Mindreaders need to introspectively access their offline products of simulation before they can project them onto the target. The I-code represents types of mental categories and classifies mental-state tokens in terms of those categories. Goldman also suggests some possible primitives of the I-code.

However, since different percept and attitude types are presumably realized in different cerebral areas, each percept or attitude type will depend on a specific informational channel to feed the introspective mechanism. The simulative process begins not with my pretending to be the target, but rather with my becoming the target. In virtue of this de-rigidification of the personal pronoun, any introspective step is ruled out: one does not first assign a psychological state to oneself to transfer it to the target.

Since the simulator becomes the target, no analogical inference from oneself to the other is needed. Still more radically, simulation can occur without having any mentalistic concepts. Second, Gordon problematically assumes that our mentalistic abilities are constituted by language Carruthers More specifically, mastery of the grammatical rules for embedding tensed complement clauses under verbs of speech or cognition provides children with a necessary representational format for dealing with false beliefs.

However, correlation between linguistic exposure and mindreading does not depend on the use of specific grammatical structures. Moreover, syntax is not constitutive of the mentalistic capacities of adults. Varley et al. Finally, mastery of sentence complements is not even a necessary condition of the development of mindreading in children. Perner et al. This claim finds its main support in the interplay between ST and neuroscience. In the early s mirror neurons were first described in the ventral premotor cortex and inferior parietal lobe of macaque monkeys. These visuomotor neurons activate not only when the monkey executes motor acts such as grasping, manipulating, holding, and tearing objects , but also when it observes the same, or similar, acts performed by the experimenter or a conspecific.

Although there is only one study that seems to offer direct evidence for the existence of mirror neurons in humans Mukamel et al.

Three-year-olds’ theories of mind in actions and words

For example, fMRI studies using action observation or imitation tasks demonstrated activation in areas in the human ventral premotor and parietal cortices assumed to be homologous to the areas in the monkey cortex containing mirror neurons see Rizzolatti et al. It should be emphasized that most of the mirror neurons that discharge when a certain type of motor act is performed also activate when the same act is perceived, even though it is not performed with the same physical movement—for example, many mirror neurons that discharge when the monkey grasps food with the hand also activate when it sees a conspecific who grasps food with the mouth.

This seems to suggest that mirror neurons code or represent an action at a high level of abstraction, that is, they are receptive not only to a mere movement but indeed to an action. In , Vittorio Gallese and Goldman wrote a very influential article in which mirror neurons were indicated as the basis of the simulative process. Some critics, although admitting the presence of mirror neurons in both non-human and human primates, have drastically reappraised their role in mindreading.

7 Fan Theories So Mind-Blowing We Hope They're True

On the other hand, Goldman himself has mitigated his original position. By the early 21 st century, the primacy that both TT and ST assigns to mindreading in social cognition had been challenged.