Theory Of Mind

Theory of mind is an umbrella term that implies the capacity to make sense of (interpret, predict and explain) people's everyday behavior through the attribution of underlying mental states (Astington, 1988; Premack & Woodruff, 1978; Wellman, 1990). Theory of mind captures the critical idea that minds (mental states) represent how people understand the world, and that people act on the basis of their understandings regardless of the actual situation (Lillard, 2001a). Interestingly, Premack and Woodruff (1978) introduced the term theory of mind to the psychological literature by asking whether or not members of a nonhuman species (chimpanzees) could demonstrate mental state knowledge deserving of the characterization theory of mind. They showed an adult chimpanzee videotapes of a human actor struggling to solve a variety of problems, such as trying to reach food (e.g., banana) that was just beyond reach. After each videotape clip, the chimp could choose one of several photographs that depicted a solution to the problem (e.g., a stick to reach the inaccessible banana). Premack and Woodruff (1978) assumed that to choose the correct picture the chimp must impute mental states to the actor (e.g., desires out of reach object) and then identify an appropriate behavioral solution to resolve the difficulty (e.g., extend reach with a stick). However, as noted below, the commentary on this seminal paper generated considerable debate about the proper criteria for ascribing theory of mind (e.g., Dennett, 1978; Harman, 1978).

The notion of theory of mind entered the cognitive developmental literature through the work of Bretherton and her colleagues (Bretherton & Beeghly, 1982; Bretherton, McNew, & Beegly-Smith, 1981) and Wimmer and Perner (1983). Bretherton et al. (1981) argued that a rudimentary theory of mind, though not the capacity to reflect on mental states, emerges around 12 months with the onset of communicative intentions as demonstrated by shared attention and expressive language. By 28 months, Bretherton and Beeghly (1982) saw convincing evidence that children impute internal (mental) states to self and others in mothers' reports of children's spontaneous use of words denoting expressions of perceptions, feelings, knowledge, etc. They noted that children tended to speak first about their own internal states, and that references to perceptions and volitions (want, need) were far more common than references to cognition (think, remember), a developmental trajectory confirmed in subsequent research on children's mental state talk (Bartsch & Wellman, 1995).

Wimmer and Perner (1983), returning to the question of the proper assessment of theory of mind, followed Pylyshyn's (1978) assertion that to have a theory of mind an individual must be capable of metarepresentation. According to Wimmer and Perner (1983), the essence of Pylyshyn's (1978) claim is that a theory of mind implies the ability to represent explicitly how an individual stands in relationship to a particular situation, i.e., metarepresentation implies the capacity to represent (encode in some fash ion) an individual's attitude toward a particular set of facts. Thus, I am capable of metarepresentation when I represent consciously that person A wants X or that person B believes Y. Although Wimmer and Perner (1983) acknowledged that children's talk about mental states demonstrated their capacity for metarepresentation, they suggested that a more difficult metarepresentational problem involves the ability to "represent the difference between one's own and somebody else's relation to the same propositional content" (Wimmer & Perner, 1983, p. 105). They proposed an experimental test of this claim—the unexpected change of location task—that has become one of the hallmarks of theory of mind research. In this task, a child observes a scene in which a doll places a favored object (e.g., piece of chocolate) in one location. Then, while the doll is away, the chocolate is moved to a new location. The doll then returns to the scene and the child is asked where the doll will search for the chocolate. Critically, the child and the doll now hold two different beliefs about the location of the chocolate. To answer the question correctly of where the doll will look, the child must recognize that the doll will be guided by its incorrect or false belief. Wimmer and Perner (1983) found that before age 4 children had great difficulty passing this test.


There are three major conceptual approaches to the pretend play-theory of mind relationship: modularity, simulation, and a social-cognitive perspective. For each of these approaches, I have concentrated primarily on one theorist whose work represents the core principles of the theory under consideration.


Modularity theorists assume that the brain has evolved to bring innate cognitive modules (discrete ways of understanding the world) on line at fixed points in development (Fodor, 1983; Leslie, 1994; Scholl & Leslie, 1999). Modules are thought to be domain specific, that is, highly specialized systems that process information rapidly in "mandatory" ways (Scholl & Leslie, 1999). The guiding principle of modularity theory is that specific "encapsulated" ways of knowing the world develop on schedule as part of the "cognitive architecture" of the mind (Scholl & Leslie, 1999, p. 131). For example, at roughly age 6 months infants acquire a module that permits a basic understanding of the physical properties of objects. By 9 months, a new module emerges allowing infants to make sense of people's goal-directed actions. By 18 months, a module permitting the representation of mental states, including pretense and beliefs, is in place (Leslie, 1994). Leslie (Scholl & Leslie, 1999) argues that by 18 months metarepresentations (below) are also possible, and he follows the nativist argument that the capacity for such complex thought could not be learned (Fodor, 1992). Leslie (1991) also argues that the well documented difficulty that children with autism experience on theory of mind tasks supports the claim that serious cognitive impairment arises from biological damage to the theory of mind module.

Leslie's (1987) influential paper on pretend play as metarepresentational thought foreshadowed his later work on modularity. Primary representations, he argued, are internal (mental) states that allow us to perceive and respond to the world "in an accurate, faithful, and literal way" (p. 414). Primary representations, then, are well designed "to represent situations seriously and literally" but ill suited to cope with pretense (p. 414). Accepting that pretend play involves "double knowledge" (McCune-Nicolich, 1981), the problem for a theory of pretense is to account for the fact that by the second year a child can deploy primary representations to categorize objects (e.g., a banana is a yellow concave edible object) but also pretend that an object is something else (e.g., banana is a telephone). However, the child's understanding of the real and pretend worlds would be overwhelmed and open to "representational abuse" if bananas became telephones and vice versa. To solve the problem, Leslie (1987) argued that when children engage in pretend play they create a second order "decoupled" copy (e.g. 'this banana is a telephone') of the primary representation. Decoupling solves the problem of representational abuse because the copy is "quarantined" from the primary representation thereby allowing the child to keep the actual and pretend worlds separate. Pretend representations, then, are "opaque" representations of representations or metarepresentations.

Although Leslie (1978) borrowed the term "metarepresentation" from Pylyshyn (1978) it is not clear that he used the term as Pylyshyn (1978) intended (Jarrold, Carruthers, Smith, & Boucher, 1994). In fact, Jarrold et al. (1994) argue convincingly that merely copying a primary representation, as Leslie (1987) described, is not sufficient to meet Pylyshyn's (1978) definition of metarepresentation as "the ability to represent the representation relationship itself." However, it is important to note that Leslie's position on metarepresentation has evolved since the publication of his original (1987) paper. In subsequent work (Leslie & Roth, 1993), he has used the term "M-representation" which seems to embody a richer notion that is closer both to Pylyshyn's (1978) definition and to the work of other prominent theories (Nichols & Stich, 2000). M-representations are not simply copies of primary representations but rather characterize agents who assume an epistemic stance, called an "informational relationship," toward both a primary representation and its decoupled secondary referent. Thus, to return to the example of the banana as a make-believe telephone, an M-representation would take the form, "mother pretends [of] the banana that 'it is a telephone'" (Leslie & Roth, 1993, p. 87).

Finding Your Confidence

Finding Your Confidence

Confidence is necessary to achieve success in life. Some effective confidence tips must be followed if you genuinely want to gain accomplishment in your work. So how do you build your confidence that will work for you in any situation? Initially, make an effort to spend time with confident people. Their vigor and strength is so stirring that you will surely feel yourself more powerful just by listening to their talk. To build confidence it is vital that you are in the midst of self-assuring people.

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