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Signature Limits

Automatic belief-tracking in adults and belief-tracking in infants are both subject to signature limits associated with minimal theory of mind (\citealp{wang:2015_limits,Low:2012_identity,low:2014_quack,mozuraitis:2015_privileged}; contrast \citealp{scott:2015_infants}).
\begin{center}
\includegraphics[width=0.25\textwidth]{fig/signature_limits_table.png}
\end{center}
\begin{center}
\includegraphics[width=0.3\textwidth]{fig/low_2012_fig.png}
\end{center}

signature limits generate predictions

Hypothesis:

Some automatic belief-tracking systems rely on minimal models of the mental.

Hypothesis:

Infants’ belief-tracking abilities rely on minimal models of the mental.

Prediction:

Automatic belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.

Prediction:

Infants’ belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.

There is some evidence that this prediction is correct. Jason Low and his collegaues set out to test it. They have now published three different papers showing such limits; and Hannes Rakoczy and others have more work in progress on this. Collapsing several experiements using different approaches, the basic pattern of their findings is this ...
Take non-automatic responses first; in this case, communicative responses. When you do a false-belief-identity task, you see the pattern you also find for false-belief-locations tasks. But things look different when you measure non-automatic responses ...
The non-automatic responses all show the signature limit of minimal models of the mental. This is evidence for the hypothesis that Some automatic belief-tracking systems rely on minimal models of the mental.
I also hear that quite a few scientists have pilot data that speaks against this signature limit.
One particular task for future research will be to examine whether other automatic responses to scenarios involving false beliefs about identity, such as response times and movement trajectories, are also subject to this signature limit.
Just say that you can do this with other stimuli and paradigms, and we have done this with infants and would like to do it with adults.
These findings complicate the picture: is helping driven by automatic processes only? If not, why do we predict that the signature limit of minimal theory of mind is found in this case too?

signature limits generate predictions

Hypothesis:

Some automatic belief-tracking systems rely on minimal models of the mental.

Hypothesis:

Infants’ belief-tracking abilities rely on minimal models of the mental.

Prediction:

Automatic belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.

Prediction:

Infants’ belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.

Look at the three year olds. What might make us think that three year old’s responses are a consequence of the same system that underpin’s adults’ automatic responses? One compelling consideration is that three year old’s responses manifest to the same signature limit as adults’.

reidentifying systems:

same signature limit -> same system

Scott et al (2015, figure 2b)

Scott and colleagues \citep{scott:2015_infants} provided other evidence suggesting that infants’ mindreading may be relatively sophisticated. Specifically, 17-month-olds watched a thief attempt to steal a preferred object (a rattling toy) when its owner was momentarily absent by substituting it with a less-preferred object (a non-rattling toy). Infants looked longer when the thief substituted the preferred object with a non-visually-matching silent toy compared to when the thief substituted it with a visually-matching silent toy. The authors postulated that infants can ascribe to the thief an intention to implant in the owner a false-belief about the identity of the substituted toy. The authors further suggested that infants make such ascriptions only when the substitution involves a visually-matching toy and the owner will not test whether the toy rattles on her return.
However, Scott et al.’s \citep{scott:2015_infants} explanations also require postulating that infants take the thief to be strikingly inept; despite having opportunity simply to pilfer from a closed box known to contain at least three rattling toys, the thief engages in elaborate deception which will be uncovered whenever the substituted toy is next shaken and the thief, as sole suspect, easily identified. A further difficulty is that factors unrelated to the thief’s mental states vary between conditions, such as the frequencies with which toys visually matching one present during the final phase of the test trial have rattled. These considerations jointly indicate that further evidence would be needed to support the claim that humans’ early mindreading capacity enables them to ascribe intentions concerning false beliefs involving numerical identity.
It has to be said that not everyone is convinced ..
Objection:

‘the theoretical arguments offered [...] are [...] unconvincing, and [...] the data can be explained in other terms’

(\citealp{carruthers:2015_two}; see also \citealp{carruthers:2015_mindreading}).

Carruthers (2015)

What is my response? Yes, the data can be explained in other terms, at least post hoc; and certainly there is as yet insufficient data for certainty. What about the theoretical arguments? Partners in crime defence ... theoretical arguments for multiple systems for belief are the same as the theoretical arguments for physical cognition or number cognition (but that’s a different talk).

signature limits generate predictions

Hypothesis:

Some automatic belief-tracking systems rely on minimal models of the mental.

Hypothesis:

Infants’ belief-tracking abilities rely on minimal models of the mental.

Prediction:

Automatic belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.

Prediction:

Infants’ belief-tracking is subject to the signature limits of minimal models.