What could someone represent that would enable her to track, at least within limits, others' perceptions, knowledge states and beliefs including false beliefs? An obvious possibility is that she might represent these very attitudes as such. It is sometimes tacitly or explicitly assumed that this is the only possible answer. However, we argue that several recent discoveries in developmental, cognitive, and comparative psychology indicate the need for other, less obvious possibilities. Our aim is to meet this need by describing the (...) construction of a minimal theory of mind. Minimal theory of mind is rich enough to explain systematic success on tasks held to be acid tests for theory of mind cognition including many false belief tasks. Yet minimal theory of mind does not require representing propositional attitudes, or any other kind of representation, as such. Minimal theory of mind may be what enables those with limited cognitive resources or little conceptual sophistication, such as infants, chimpanzees, scrub-jays and human adults under load, to track others' perceptions, knowledge states and beliefs. (shrink)
The lack of consensus on how to characterize humans’ capacity for belief reasoning has been brought into sharp focus by recent research. Children fail critical tests of belief reasoning before 3 to 4 years (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001; Wimmer & Perner, 1983), yet infants apparently pass false belief tasks at 13 or 15 months (Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005; Surian, Caldi, & Sperber, 2007). Non-human animals also fail critical tests of belief reasoning but can show very complex social behaviour (e.g., (...) Call & Tomasello, 2005). Fluent social interaction in adult humans implies efficient processing of beliefs, yet direct tests suggest that belief reasoning is cognitively demanding, even for adults (e.g., Apperly, Samson & Humphreys, 2005). We interpret these findings by drawing an analogy with the domain of number cognition, where similarly contrasting results have been observed. We propose that the success of infants and non-human animals on some belief reasoning tasks may be best explained by a cognitively efficient but inflexible capacity for tracking belief-like states. In humans this capacity persists in parallel with later-developing, more flexible but more cognitively demanding theory of mind abilities. (shrink)
In this response to the commentary by Michael and Christensen, we first explain how minimal mindreading is compatible with the development of increasingly sophisticated mindreading behaviours that involve both executive functions and general knowledge, and then sketch one approach to a minimal account of goal ascription.
In three studies, we explored the retention and transfer of tool-making knowledge, learnt from an adult demonstration, to other temporal and task contexts. All studies used a variation of a task in which children had to make a hook tool to retrieve a bucket from a tall transparent tube. Children who failed to innovate the hook tool independently saw a demonstration. In Study 1, we tested children aged 4 to 6 years (N = 53) who had seen the original demonstration (...) 3 months earlier. Performance was excellent at the second time, indicating that children’s knowledge was retained over the 3 month period. In Studies 2 and 3 we explored transfer of the new knowledge to other tasks. In Study 2, children were given two variants of the apparatus that differed in surface characteristics (e.g. shape and colour). Participants generalised their knowledge to these new apparatuses even though the new pipecleaner also differed in size and colour. Five- to 6-year-olds (n = 22) almost always transferred their knowledge to problems where the same tool had to be made. Younger, 3- to 5-year-olds’ (n = 46), performance was more variable. In Study 3, 4- to 7-year-olds (N = 146) saw a demonstration of hook making with a pipecleaner, but then had to make a tool by combining pieces of wooden dowel (or vice versa: original training on dowel, transfer to pipecleaner). Children did not transfer their tool-making knowledge to the new material. Children retained tool-making knowledge over time and transferred their knowledge to new situations in which they needed to make a similar tool from similar materials, but not different materials. We concluded that children’s ability to use tool-making knowledge in novel situations is likely to depend on memory and analogical reasoning, with the latter continuing to develop during middle childhood. (shrink)
Recent data show that human children (up to 8 years old) perform poorly when required to innovate tools. Our tool-rich culture may be more reliant on social learning and more limited by domain-general constraints such as ill-structured problem solving than otherwise thought.
I suggest an alternative basis for Heyes’ analogy between cultural learning of mindreading and text reading. Unlike text reading, mindreading does not entail decoding of observable stimuli. Like text reading, mindreading requires relevant inferences. Identification of relevant inferences is a deeply challenging problem, and the most important contribution of cultural learning to mindreading may be an apprenticeship in thinking like a mindreader.