Theory of Mind: what is it and what does it tell us about us?

Theory of Mind: what is it and what does it tell us about us?

When we think of all those mental faculties that are characteristic of human beings and no other species, it is very easy to think of language, the ability to learn all kinds of things or the possibility of solving complex mathematical problems.

These are easily observable human characteristics, but they are not the only ones we enjoy exclusively. There is another, much more discreet one, thanks to which our social relations are richer. This capacity has been called Theory of Mind .

What is the Theory of Mind?

Defined in a general way, the Theory of Mind is the capacity to be aware of the differences that exist between one’s point of view and that of others .

In other words, this faculty makes it possible for us to take into account the mental states of other subjects without assuming that these ideas or thoughts are like our own. A person who has developed Theory of Mind can attribute ideas, desires and beliefs to the rest of the agents with whom he or she interacts. And all this in an automatic, almost unconscious way.

A hierarchy of mental states

Very often we are exposed to situations where we have to imagine what someone else is thinking. In turn, this person can assume, from the information he has about us, what we think he is thinking, and all this can also be inferred by us and by the other person in a theoretically infinite loop. A hierarchy of mental states that contain each other: I think you think I think

The Theory of Mind is in the second place in this hierarchy (I think you believe this), and it is the seed from which the capacity to progress towards the rest of the more complex categories is born.

How does the Theory of Mind develop? The 4-year age threshold

Human beings are probably the only species whose members can think of others as intentional agents , that is, beings with their own interests. This means that from a very early age, the vast majority of humans are able to distinguish between an action and the objective to which that action is oriented, even if the latter has not been clearly revealed. Furthermore, after a few months of life all people learn to take into account where others are focusing their attention , and therefore can claim that attention for themselves or for something that is close by.

These changes in babies’ cognitive development begin towards the end of the first year of age and are part of what is known as the nine-month revolution , from which emanate skills that build on each other and enhance the creation of complex social behaviours, such as simulated play, which requires understanding that the other is acting by using a banana like a telephone, or imitation, in which the child learns from the adult’s actions and is able to figure out the purpose of each of the movements he or she is seeing.

The Theory of Mind appears around the age of 4 and is built on the foundations of all these capacities derived from the revolution of nine months , but it intervenes in more abstract and refined mental processes. Thus, all those people who develop Theory of the Mind think of others not only as intentional agents, but also as mental agents, with a whole series of complex psychological states that are specific to them. Among these new mental states that are attributed to others are, for example, desires and beliefs.

The False Belief Experiment

When we think of all those mental faculties that are characteristic of human beings and no other species, it is very easy to think of language, the ability to learn all kinds of things or the possibility of solving complex mathematical problems.

These are easily observable human characteristics, but they are not the only ones we enjoy exclusively.
There is another, much more discreet one, thanks to which our social relations are richer.
This capacity has been called Theory of Mind .

What is the Theory of Mind?

Defined in a general way, the Theory of Mind is the capacity to be aware of the differences that exist between one’s point of view and that of others .

In other words, this faculty makes it possible for us to take into account the mental states of other subjects without assuming that these ideas or thoughts are like our own.
A person who has developed Theory of Mind can attribute ideas, desires and beliefs to the rest of the agents with whom he or she interacts.
And all this in an automatic, almost unconscious way.

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