A&O – COGNITION and the THEORY of MIND

 

ART & ORGANISM

What are Other People Thinking?

The Development and Deployment of Theory of Mind

 

 

What can Artifacts Tell Us — or “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?” (and how would we know). Insight into the evolution of our own competencies is what we seek here. (see A&O page on ART & ARTIFACT)

While typically, artists seek transcendence in their work, all acts have the potential to provide an artifact of great significance, depending on the disposition and experience of the recipient. Such artifacts can be corporeal or in memory only. 

The main emphasis of DEEP Ethology is behavior but we can look at artifacts and do our best to infer the behavioral patterns and state of mind that led to them.  We must exercise our  capacity to express a “theory of mind.”  “…the ability to attribute mental states–beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc.—to oneself, and to others, and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.[1] Theory of mind is crucial for everyday social interactions and is used when analyzing, judging, and inferring others’ behaviors.[2]  (this is the aspect emphasized by Thomas Hobbes (1651) about the function of consciousness.)

Deficits can occur in people with autism spectrum  disorders, schizophreniaattention deficit hyperactivity disorder,[3] cocaine addiction,[4] and brain damage suffered from alcohol’s neurotoxicity.[5] (Wikipedia)

A fully developed theory of mind is preceded and incorporates an understanding of attention (at about 8 months; Simon Baron-Cohen).  In fact, sharing selective attention may be, Baron-Cohen’s view, an early motive for all communicating.  ToM  also involves a capacity to infer the intentions of others (the “intentional stance” as defined by Daniel Dennett).  The capacity to imitate may lie “at the origins of both theory of mind and other social-cognitive achievements like perspective-taking and empathy.

“While much research has been done on infants, theory of mind develops continuously throughout childhood and into late adolescence as the synapses (neuronal connections) in the prefrontal cortex develop. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning and decision-making.[26] Children seem to develop theory of mind skills sequentially. The first skill to develop is the ability to recognize that others have diverse desires. Children are able to recognize that others have diverse beliefs soon after. The next skill to develop is recognizing that others have access to different knowledge bases. Finally, children are able to understand that others may have false beliefs and that others are capable of hiding emotions.”

CULTURAL RELATIVITY?  “While this sequence represents the general trend in skill acquisition, it seems that more emphasis is placed on some skills in certain cultures, leading to more valued skills to develop before those that are considered not as important. For example, in individualistic cultures such as the United States, a greater emphasis is placed on the ability to recognize that others have different opinions and beliefs. In a collectivistic culture, such as China, this skill may not be as important and therefore may not develop until later.”

 

In DEVELOPMENTAL biology, infants reach a stage in which they manifest some insight into wheat another individual is likely thinking.  This is their THEORY-OF-MIND: at an early age (about 3-4 years old) we tend to assume that others have minds much like ours (overview of typical developmental path at a Hanen.org site)[i]

 


[i] How Theory of Mind Develops in Typical Children

During infancy and early childhood, children learn the early skills that they’ll need to develop their theory of mind later on. These skills include the ability to [2,3]:

  • pay attention to people and copy them
  • recognize others’ emotions and use words to express them (“happy”, “sad”, “mad”)
  • know that they are different from other people and have different likes/dislikes from others
  • know that people act according to the things they want
  • understand the causes and consequences of emotions (If I throw my toy, Mom will be mad)
  • pretend to be someone else (like a doctor or a cashier) when they play

Between ages 4-5, children really start to think about others’ thoughts and feelings, and this is when true theory of mind emerges. Children develop theory of mind skills in the following order [1, 4, 5]:

  • Understanding “wanting” – Different people want different things, and to get what they want, people act in different ways.
  • Understanding “thinking” – Different people have different, but potentially true, beliefs about the same thing. People’s actions are based on what they think is going to happen.
  • Understanding that “seeing leads to knowing” – If you haven’t seen something, you don’t necessarily know about it (like the Dad in the example above on the telephone). If someone hasn’t seen something, they will need extra information to understand.
  • Understanding “false beliefs” – Sometimes people believe things that are not true, and they act according to their beliefs, not according to what is really true.
  • Understanding “hidden feelings” – People can feel a different emotion from the one they display.

Children’s theory of mind continues to develop after age five. For the next several years they learn to predict what one person thinks or feels about what another person is thinking or feeling [4]. They also begin to understand complex language that relies on theory of mind, such as lies, sarcasm, and figurative language (like “it’s raining cats and dogs”) [4]. Some experts argue that theory of mind development continues over a lifetime as one has more opportunities to experience people and their behaviour [6, 3].


In DEVELOPMENTAL biology, infants reach a stage in which they manifest some insight into wheat another individual is likely thinking.  This is their THEORY-OF-MIND: at an early age (about 3-4 years old) we tend to assume that others have minds much like ours (overview of typical developmental path at a Hanen.org site)[i]

A fully developed theory of mind is preceded and incorporates an understanding of attention (at about 8 months; Simon Baron-Cohen).  In fact, sharing selective attention may be, Baron-Cohen’s view, an early motive for all communicating.  ToM  also involves a capacity to infer the intentions of others (the “intentional stance” as defined by Daniel Dennett).  The capacity to imitate may lie “at the origins of both theory of mind and other social-cognitive achievements like perspective-taking and empathy.

“While much research has been done on infants, theory of mind develops continuously throughout childhood and into late adolescence as the synapses (neuronal connections) in the prefrontal cortex develop. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning and decision-making.[26] Children seem to develop theory of mind skills sequentially. The first skill to develop is the ability to recognize that others have diverse desires. Children are able to recognize that others have diverse beliefs soon after. The next skill to develop is recognizing that others have access to different knowledge bases. Finally, children are able to understand that others may have false beliefs and that others are capable of hiding emotions. While this sequence represents the general trend in skill acquisition, it seems that more emphasis is placed on some skills in certain cultures, leading to more valued skills to develop before those that are considered not as important. For example, in individualistic cultures such as the United States, a greater emphasis is placed on the ability to recognize that others have different opinions and beliefs. In a collectivistic culture, such as China, this skill may not be as important and therefore may not develop until later.”  (Wikipedia)

 

 

 


[i] How Theory of Mind Develops in Typical Children

During infancy and early childhood, children learn the early skills that they’ll need to develop their theory of mind later on. These skills include the ability to [2,3]:

  • pay attention to people and copy them
  • recognize others’ emotions and use words to express them (“happy”, “sad”, “mad”)
  • know that they are different from other people and have different likes/dislikes from others
  • know that people act according to the things they want
  • understand the causes and consequences of emotions (If I throw my toy, Mom will be mad)
  • pretend to be someone else (like a doctor or a cashier) when they play

Between ages 4-5, children really start to think about others’ thoughts and feelings, and this is when true theory of mind emerges. Children develop theory of mind skills in the following order [1, 4, 5]:

  • Understanding “wanting” – Different people want different things, and to get what they want, people act in different ways.
  • Understanding “thinking” – Different people have different, but potentially true, beliefs about the same thing. People’s actions are based on what they think is going to happen.
  • Understanding that “seeing leads to knowing” – If you haven’t seen something, you don’t necessarily know about it (like the Dad in the example above on the telephone). If someone hasn’t seen something, they will need extra information to understand.
  • Understanding “false beliefs” – Sometimes people believe things that are not true, and they act according to their beliefs, not according to what is really true.
  • Understanding “hidden feelings” – People can feel a different emotion from the one they display.

Children’s theory of mind continues to develop after age five. For the next several years they learn to predict what one person thinks or feels about what another person is thinking or feeling [4]. They also begin to understand complex language that relies on theory of mind, such as lies, sarcasm, and figurative language (like “it’s raining cats and dogs”) [4]. Some experts argue that theory of mind development continues over a lifetime as one has more opportunities to experience people and their behaviour [6, 3].