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Knowledge of Mind

challenge
Explain the emergence in development
of mindreading.
The challenge is to explain the developmental emergence of mindreading.
Let me explain.
\textit{Mindreading} is the process of identifying mental states and purposive actions as the mental states and purposive actions of a particular subject.
Researchers sometimes use the term ‘theory of mind’.
‘In saying that an individual has a theory of mind, we mean that the individual imputes mental states to himself and to others’
\citep[p.\ 515]{premack_does_1978}

(Premack & Woodruff 1978: 515)

So, to be clear about the terminology, to have a theory of mind is just to be able to to mindread, that is, to identify mental states and purposive actions as the mental states and purposive actions of a particular subject.
So the challenge is to explain the emergence of mindreading. You know (let's say) that Ayesha belives Beatrice is in the library. Humans are not born knowing individuating facts about others' beliefs. How do they come to be in a position to know such facts? Meeting this challenge initially seems simple. But, as you'll see, we quickly end up with a puzzle. I think this puzzle requires us to rethink what is involved in having a conception of the mental.
I shall focus on awareness of others' beliefs to the exclusion of other mental states.
There's no theoretical reason for this; it's just a practical thing.
And what we learn about belief will generalise to other mental states.

belief

How can we test whether someone is able to ascribe beliefs to others? Here is one quite famous way to test this, perhaps some of you are even aware of it already. Let's suppose I am the experimenter and you are the subjects. First I tell you a story ...

‘Maxi puts his chocolate in the BLUE box and leaves the room to play. While he is away (and cannot see), his mother moves the chocolate from the BLUE box to the GREEN box. Later Maxi returns. He wants his chocolate.’

In a standard \textit{false belief task}, `[t]he subject is aware that he/she and another person [Maxi] witness a certain state of affairs x. Then, in the absence of the other person the subject witnesses an unexpected change in the state of affairs from x to y' \citep[p.\ 106]{Wimmer:1983dz}. The task is designed to measure the subject's sensitivity to the probability that Maxi will falsely believe x to obtain.

blue
box

green box

 

I wonder where Maxi will look for his chocolate

‘Where will Maxi look for his chocolate?’

Wimmer & Perner 1983

Here's the really surprising thing.
Children do really badly on this until they are around four years of age.
And they seem to develop the ability to pass this task only gradually, over months or years.
(There's something else that isn't surprising to most people but should be: adult humans not only nearly always provide the answer we're calling 'correct': they also believe that there is an obviously correct answer and that it would be a mistake to give any other answer. I'll return to this point later.)

Wimmer & Perner, 1983

(NB: The figure is not Wimmer & Perner's but drawn from their data.)
There's been some stuff in the press recently about bad science, mainly some dodgy methods and failures to replicate.
So you'll be pleased to know that a meta-study of 178 papers confirmed Wimmer & Perner's findings.

Wellman et al, 2001 figure 2A

Now there is clearly some variation here.
That's because different researchers implemented different versions of the original task.
We can use the meta-analysis of these experiments as a shortcut to finding out what sorts of factors affect children's performance.
One factor that seems to make hardly any difference is whether you ask children about others' beliefs or their own beliefs.
To repeat, you get essentially the same results whether you ask children about others' beliefs or their own beliefs.
Children literally do not know their own minds.

Wellman et al, 2001 figure 5

What happens if we involve the child by having her interact with the protagonist?
The task becomes easier for children of all ages, but the transition is essentially the same (participation does not interact with age \citealp[pp.\ 665-7]{Wellman:2001lz}).

Wellman et al, 2001 figure 6

Finally, although there are some cultural differences, you get the same transition in seven diferent countries.

Wellman et al, 2001 figure 7

challenge
Explain the emergence in development
of mindreading.
So our challenge was to explain the emergence of mindreading. At this point, up until around, it seemed quite straightforward to most researchers. We seemed to know that children are unaware of mental states until around four years. And a lot of studies looked at which factors affect their acquiring this awareness. These studies showed that executive function, language and rich forms of social interaction are all important. All of this supported something like the story that Sellars tells in his famous Myth of Jones.

How does mindreading emerge in development?

Sellars' Myth of Jones

*todo*: describe Sellars' myth; link to Gopnik theory theory idea.

but ...

But there was a big surprise in store for us.
Three-year-olds systematically fail to predict actions \citep{Wimmer:1983dz} and desires \citep{Astington:1991kk} based on false beliefs; they similarly fail to retrodict beliefs \citep{Wimmer:1998kx} and to select arguments suitable for agents with false beliefs \citep{Bartsch:2000es}. They fail some low-verbal and nonverbal false belief tasks \citealp{Call:1999co,low:2010_preschoolers,krachun:2009_competitive,krachun:2010_new}; they fail whether the question concerns others' or their own (past) false beliefs \citep{Gopnik:1991db}; and they fail whether they are interacting or observing \citep{Chandler:1989qa}.