ED209 revision: theory of mind

Understanding minds is the shortest chapter in the Erica Cox notes at just over three pages vs six pages for most of the preceeding chapters which certainly sounds good in terms of being able to learn the content.

Understanding a theory of mind is the realisation that others have views, opinions, feelings, etc. that are different from ours. Examining the development of a theory of mind was originally looked at by Premack & Woodruff who showed monkeys videos and then had them select a “what next” photo; Dennett pointed out that this was really flakey in terms of methodology as they could be working it out for themselves rather than considering what the actor might do next. Therefore, the attention moved on to Sally/Anne tasks where Wimmer & Perner found that 3 year olds couldn’t do it, by 4 or 5 half of them could and almost all 6 to 9 year olds managed it. Gopnik & Astington used the deceptive Smartie tube and found that children of around 4 got the right result ie recognised the false belief.

Moving on from this the second order theory of mind kicks in around 6 to 8. This is the ability to attribute beliefs about beliefs. Sulivan found that children from 5 to 9 could distinguish between the lie about having cleaned the room and the joke about eating the peas. Theory of mind generally is related to improved social interaction (Astington & Jenkins) and obviously facilitates social manipulation (Sutton et al re bullies).

Other means of looking at the development of a theory of mind include examining behaviour and talk, investigating cognitive skilla and research into environmental factors. Wellman & Bartsch investigated children from 2 to 5 and noted the trend of moving from talking about others desires to talking about their beliefs. Repacholi & Gopnik considered this via the broccoli experiment. On the cognitive skills front Charman et al examined joint attention which predicted future theory of mind knowledge and Meltzoff looked at understanding intentions through comparing actions following watching an adult fail and watching a machine fail at a task.

Social factors affecting theory of mind development include: language ability & number of siblings (particularly the number of older siblings), interaction with adults, how the mother spoke in terms of asking the child how the victim felt, age, gender (girls are slightly better), and speaking generally (deaf studies of deaf parents & children vs hearing parents & deaf children). Which all support Vygotsky’s learning through social interaction.

Overall, it looks like a reasonable chapter to revise and answer questions on.

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