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Mindreading: a Developmental Puzzle

An \emph{A-Task} is any false belief task that children tend to fail until around three to five years of age.
\begin{enumerate} \item Children fail A-tasks because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs. \item Children pass non-A-tasks by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs. \item At any time, the child has a single model of minds and actions. \end{enumerate}
For adults (and children who can do this), representing perceptions and beliefs as such---and even merely holding in mind what another believes, where no inference is required---involves a measurable processing cost \citep{apperly:2008_back,apperly:2010_limits}, consumes attention and working memory in fully competent adults \citealp{Apperly:2009cc, lin:2010_reflexively, McKinnon:2007rr}, may require inhibition \citep{bull:2008_role} and makes demands on executive function \citep{apperly:2004_frontal,samson:2005_seeing}.
challenge
Explain the emergence in development
of mindreading.
The challenge is to explain the emergence, in evolution or development, of mindreading. Initially it looked like this was going to be relatively straightforward and involve just language, social interaction and executive function. So a Myth of Jones style story seemed viable. But the findings of competence in infants of around one year of age changes this. These findings tell us that not all abilities to represent others' mental states can depend on things like language. And, as I've been stressing, these findings also create a puzzle. The puzzle is, roughly, how to reconcile infants' competence with three-year-olds' failure.

Two models of minds and actions

Belief explanation

Fact explanation

Maxi wants his chocolate.

Maxi wants his chocolate.

Maxi believes his chocolate is in the blue box.

Maxi’s chocolate is in the green box.

Therefore:

Therefore:

Maxi will look in the blue box.

Maxi will look in the red box.

Let me start by taking you back to the early eighties. (Has anyone else been enjoying Deutschland drei und achtzig?)

3-year-olds fail false belief tasks

3-year-olds fail a wide variety of tasks where they are asked about a false belief, or asked to predict how someone with a false belief will act, ...

prediction

- action(Wimmer & Perner 1983)

or asked to predict what someone with a false belief will desire ...

- desire(Astington & Gopnik 1991)

... or to retrodict or explain a false belief after being shown how someone acts.

retrodiction or explanation(Wimmer & Mayringer 1998)

select a suitable argument(Bartsch & London 2000)

Further, lots of factors make no difference to 3-year-olds’ performance: they fail tasks about other’s beliefs and they fail tasks about their own beliefs;

own beliefs (first person)(Gopnik & Slaughter 1991)

they fail when they are merely observers as well as when they are actively involved;

involvement (deception)(Chandler et al 1989)

they fail when a verbal response is required and also when an nonverbal communicative response or even a noncommunicative response (such as hiding an object) is required.

nonverbal response(Call et al 1999; Krachun et al, 2010; Low 2010 exp.2)

And they fail test questions which are word-for-word identical to desire and pretence tasks

test questions word-for-word identical to desire and pretence tasks(Gopnik et al 1994; Cluster 1996)

A-tasks

An A-Task is any false belief task that children tend to fail until around three to five years of age.
Why do children systematically fail A-tasks? There is a simple explanation ...

Children fail

because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs

[Stress that, on this view, children do have a model of minds and actions. It’s just that it doesn’t incorporate belief.] Perner and others have championed the view that children who failed A-tasks lack a metarepresentational understanding of propositional attitudes altogether. But this view has recently (well, not that recently, it’s nearly a decade old now) been challenged by Hannes’ discovery that children can solve tasks which are like A-tasks but involve incompatible desires \citep{rakoczy:2007_desire}. I think this make plausible the thought that there is an age at which children fail A-tasks not because they have a problem with mental states in general, but because they have a problem with beliefs in particular.
It turns out that, in the first and second years of life, infants show abities to track false beliefs on a variety of measures.

Infants’ false-belief tracking abilities

Violation of expectations

- with change of location(Onishi & Baillargeon 2005)

- with deceptive contents(He et al 2011)

- observing verbal comm.(Song et al 2008; Scott et al 2012)

Anticipating action (Clements et al 1994)

looking (Southgate et al 2007)

pointing(Knudsen & Liszkowski 2011)

Helping(Buttlemann et al 2009, 2015)

Communicating(Southgate et al 2010)

non-A-tasks

A non-A-Task is a task that is not an A-task. I was tempted to call these B-Tasks, but that would imply that they have a unity. And whereas we know from a meta-analysis that A-tasks do seem to measure a single underlying competence, we don’t yet know whether all non-A-tasks measure a single thing or whether there might be several different things.
Why do infants systematically pass non-A-tasks in the first year or two of life? There is a simple explanation ...

Children pass

by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs

And this is *almost* everything we need to generate the puzzle about development.

A-tasks

Children fail

because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs

Children fail A-tasks because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs.

non-A-tasks

Children pass

by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs

Children pass non-A-tasks by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs.

dogma

the

of mindreading

The dogma of mindreading: any individual has at most one model of minds and actions at any one point in time.
We’ve seen that ... To get a contradiction we need one further ingredient.
These three claims are jointly inconsistent so one of them must be false. Researchers disagree about which claim to reject. But I suppose you can tell from how I’ve labelled them which one I propose to reject.
The puzzle is a little bit like the puzzle we had in the case of knowledge of physical objects. But it's also different. In the case of physical objects, the conflict was between measures involving looking and measures involving searching. In this case it's different, because on the infant side there is not just looking but also acting (e.g. helping) and even communicating.
domainevidence for knowledge in infancyevidence against knowledge
colourcategories used in learning labels & functionsfailure to use colour as a dimension in ‘same as’ judgements
physical objectspatterns of dishabituation and anticipatory lookingunreflected in planned action (may influence online control)
number--""----""--
syntaxanticipatory looking[as adults]
mindsreflected in anticipatory looking, communication, &cnot reflected in judgements about action, desire, ...

What is the developmental puzzle about false belief?

A-tasks

Children fail

because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs

Children fail A-tasks because they rely on a model of minds and actions that does not incorporate beliefs.

non-A-tasks

Children pass

by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs

Children pass non-A-tasks by relying on a model of minds and actions that does incorporate beliefs.

dogma

the

of mindreading

The dogma of mindreading: any individual has at most one model of minds and actions at any one point in time.

Conjecture

Infants have core knowledge of minds and actions.

Core knowledge is sufficient for success on non-A-tasks.

Infants lack knowledge of minds and actions.

Knowledge is necessary for success on A-tasks.

Why accept this conjecture? So far no reason has been given at all. And it barely makes sense. There are just so many assumptions. All I’m really saying is that I hope this case, knowledege of minds, will turn out to be like the other cases.
Why accept this conjecture? And what form does the core knowledge take. In every case so far, we have had to identify infant with adult competencies. (Core knowledege is for life, not just for infancy.)