" Theory of Mind and Seal of Certainity "

                                        the paradox

   "Now that we realize others think differently then ourselves, it sure would be nice to know for certain what they might be thinking"


                                             "As humans, not being decieved is very important to "getting along "


A crucial development occurs around 4 years of age when children realize that thoughts in the mind may not be true. For example, children are allowed to discover that a familiar candy box actually contains pencils, and then are asked what their friend will think is in the box, before looking inside it.15 Three-year-olds assume that the friend will know it has pencils inside, just as they now do, but 4-year-olds recognize that the friend will be tricked, just as they were. Three-year-olds also do not remember that their own belief has changed.16 If the pencils are put back in the box and they are asked what they thought was inside before opening it, they’ll say “pencils” not “candy” but 4-year-olds remember they thought it was candy. That is, 3-year-olds are not simply egocentric, i.e., thinking everyone knows what they know, rather, they come to understand their own minds and those of other people at the same time. By the age of 4 or 5 years, children realize that people talk and act on the basis of the way they think the world is, even when their thoughts do not reflect the real situation, and so they will not be surprised if their uninformed friend looks for candy in the box they know has pencils inside.

Implications for Parents, Services and Policy

Theory of mind is at the base of children’s social understanding. The implicit theory of mind seen in infants becomes more explicit during the preschool years and provides an important foundation for school entry.

Theory of mind is more like language than literacy, in so far as it is a system with biological roots that develops without specific teaching.

Nonetheless, environmental factors do influence its development. It can be enhanced by opportunities:

  • to engage in rich pretend play;
  • to talk about people’s thoughts, wants, and feelings, and the reasons why they act the way they do;
  • to hear and talk about stories, especially those involving surprises, secrets, tricks, and mistakes, that invite children to see things from different points of view (for example, Red Riding Hood doesn’t know that the wolf is dressed up as grandma).

Parents and caregivers can be made aware of signs, such as lack of pretend play or lack of shared attention and interest, that might indicate theory of mind is not developing in the typical way, which is the case with children at risk for autism, for example.30

                                                                                                                                                                                  The Development of Theory of Mind in Early Childhood


            Theory of Mind and Moral Judgments

In our recent discussion on morality, I’ve been putting forth the argument that to understand the nature of our morality we must look to science. So far we’ve discussed issues relating to moral decisions as they pertain to our personal actions. But there is another side to moral reasoning, and this has to do with how we view the actions of others. There is a presupposition inherent in this endeavor though, which is that other people have their own thoughts and beliefs and desires and can be judged objectively on the basis of this knowledge of them being separate and distinct beings from us. This understanding of the intentional states of others is called Theory of Mind. What are the mechanisms that underlie Theory of Mind, and how important are they in judgments regarding the actions of others?

Let me describe for you two experiments. The first of which finds an intriguing correlation between Theory of Mind and moral judgments, and a second which goes a step further and finds a causal connection. In the first experiment patients were given four distinct situations and were to judge how much blame to give an individual who committed an act. The situations were as follows:

1)  Harm was intended, but none occurred.

2)  Harm was intended, and harm occurred.

3)  No harm was intended but harm occurred

4)  No harm was intended, and no harm occurred

Not surprisingly, participants in general attributed blame based on intention more than whether harm occurred or not. If the situation was such that harm was intended, but no harm occurred, participants still gave a high degree of blame to the individual attempting to do harm. Importantly, though most participants attributed low amounts of blame to individuals who caused unintended harm, they still on average attributed more blame to them than when no harm was intended or incurred.

Here was the most important thing they got from this experiment: The degree of blame attributed to the individual committing unintended harm was inversely correlated to activity in one particular brain region, the Right Temporoparietal Junction (RTPJ). (the more activity in the RTPJ, the less blame was attributed. Less activity in the RTPJ, more blame attributed).

Their follow up experiment is where things get really interesting. Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), the researchers were able to temporarily disrupt the neuronal firing in the RTPJ as participants made these same moral judgments. What they found was that they were actually able to change the participants’ moral judgments. In cases where harm was intended, but no harm was committed, participants gave less overall blame. And where no harm was intended, but harm was committed, participants gave more overall blame.

These findings are interesting not just for localizing moral decision making regarding other people’s behavior to a particular brain region, but for indicating the causal role that same region plays in influencing the judgment. When we make a moral judgment regarding someone else’s actions, we automatically incorporate our understanding of their intentional stances. We analyze not just what happened, but what someone intended to happen. We show compassion and empathy when appropriate. We attribute blame if we feel the intent of the individual deserves it. This is obvious in how parents interact with their children as well as in how our justice system functions. Attempted murder comes with a lesser sentence than murder, but it still comes with a sentence. And yet, it turns out that our ability to make these sorts of judgments is dependent on a very specific region in the brain, without which our judgments suddenly become more utilitarian in nature, contemplating only the result of the action committed.

So much of the way we interact with each other is dependent our ability to see other people as conscious and intelligent agents. People with beliefs and desires, fears and hopes. It’s so integral to our nature that we set up our society with this idea as a presupposition. Any parent will tell you that this understanding is not present in young children, and is something that develops over time. Psychology has been able to tell us the age this change occurs (around 4 years old). And now neuroscience can tell us what brain region is responsible. But only a more thorough philosophical exploration can help us think about how this affects the way we as humans interact with each other. Next time we wrap up this entire series with a quick recap of the ideas we’ve explored.       - cognitivephilosophy.net


Whilst 'minds' are not directly observable things, we tend to think a lot about them, forming theories about beliefs, values, emotions, motivations, thought processes and so on.

When we are interacting with others or thinking about them, we make guesses at what they are thinking and feeling. This is our 'theory of mind' about them (sometimes abbreviated to 'ToM'). We even do the same to ourselves, stepping back and watching ourselves think and feel as we try to work out who we really are.


                       "Understanding Others’ Thoughts Enables Young Kids to Lie"

The findings indicate that developing “theory of mind” (ToM) — a cognitive ability critical to many social interactions — may enable children to engage in the sophisticated thinking necessary for intentionally deceiving another person.

“Telling a lie successfully requires deliberately creating a false belief in the mind of the lie recipient, and ToM could provide an important cognitive tool to enable children to do so,” the researchers write.

Research suggests that children begin to tell lies somewhere around ages 2 and 3, and studies have shown a correlation between children’s theory of mind and their tendency to lie. Psychological scientists Genyue Fu of Hangzhou Normal University in China, Kang Lee of the University of Toronto in Canada, and colleagues wanted to see if they could find causal evidence for a link between the two.

The researchers first conducted a hide-and-seek task to identify children who hadn’t yet started lying. The children were shown a selection of stickers and were asked to pick their favorite one — they were told that they could only keep the sticker if they successfully won 10 candies from the hide-and-seek game. In the game, the child was told to hide a candy under one of two cups while the researcher’s eyes were closed. The researcher then opened his or her eyes, asked the child where the candy was hidden, and chose whichever cup the child pointed to. Thus, the child could only win the candy by lying to the experimenter about its location.

A total of 42 children who never lied – who told the truth about the location of the candy on each of the 10 trials — were selected to continue with the study. The children, who were around 3 years old, were randomly assigned to complete either theory-of-mind training or control tasks focused on quantitative reasoning.

The theory-of-mind training included the standard false-contents task, in which children were shown a pencil box and asked what they thought was inside. When it was revealed that the box didn’t actually contain pencils, they were asked to reason about what other people would think was in the box. The goal of the training was to teach kids that people can know and believe different things — that is, even though the child has learned the true contents of the box, someone else would probably believe that the box contained pencils.

The children completed the training tasks or quantitative tasks every other day, for a total of six sessions. After the sessions were complete, the researchers again tested the children on the theory-of-mind tasks and the hide-and-seek tasks.

As expected, children who received theory-of-mind training showed improvement on the theory-of-mind tasks over time, while the children in the control group did not.

More importantly, the children who received the theory-of-mind training were also more likely to lie in the hide-and-seek task compared to those in the control group. And this difference held over a 30-day period.

While the findings don’t shed light on the specific components of training that underlie the effect, the researchers believe their findings provide concrete evidence for a causal link between theory of mind and social behaviors like lying.

“By increasing their sensitivity to mental states and engaging them in reasoning about false beliefs, we enabled young children not only to quickly apply their newly acquired knowledge to solve a problem in a social situation but also to continue to do so more than a month later,” Lee and colleagues write. “Taken together, these two findings also suggest that children were not just mechanically memorizing what they were taught in the ToM training sessions; rather, they were able to consolidate the knowledge and use it adaptively to solve a social problem they were facing.”

In addition to Fu and Lee, co-authors on the research include Xiao Pan Ding of the University of Toronto in Canada, Henry Wellman of the University of Michigan, and Yu Wang of Zhejiang Normal University in China.

                                                                        - psychologicalscience.org