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Theory of mind

Understanding other people as people who have desires, beliefs and their own representation of the world and that it can differ from ours

--> understanding this helps is make sense of what others say and why they act the way they do


False belief task

Test of understanding mental representations

--> 4 y/o will not understand that ones beliefs are usually different from how the world really is
+ one will act accordingly


Sally Anne task

Simpler Version of the false belief task

--> 4 y/o will understand that Sally will look for her marbles where she had seen them last

=> due to shorter story + more salient features


Smarties task

Children were shown a closed box of smarties with pencils inside.
They were asked to predict what other children might say what is in the box

--> Younger than 4 y/o will say pencils instead of smarties

=> 3 y/o lack insight into their own minds
=> don't acknowledge that before they were told that there are pencils in the box, they too thought there are smarties


Development of the ability to distinguish between mental states using language

2 y/o: Children use words that refer to their internal states of perception

ex.: "see", "want"

3 y/o: Children use cognitive terms
--> distinguish between mental states + external reality

ex.: "know", "think", "remember"


Development of understanding the relationship between seeing and knowing

2 y/o: Children understand the relationship between seeing and knowing

3y/o: Children understand that different people can have different views of the same object

4y/o: Children realize that people may have different views of objects that are equally visible to both


Development of understanding the appearance-reality distinction

3y/o: Children do not realize that one person can have a true belief about an object and the other a false belief

--> only consider one interpretation of an object

4y/o: Children understand that at least one representation/ interpretation of an object is false


Development of the ability to predict behavior

2 y/o: Children understand that people have desires which influence the way they behave

3y/o: Children understand that people have beliefs about the world in addition to desires


Which factors influence the successful understanding of theory of mind ?

1. Language ability

2. Siblings
--> between 2-4 years, child-child interaction increases

3. Family size
--> children interacting with other children + adults develop these skills at earlier age


Development of theory of mind after the age of 4

Children will realize that emotional responses are also based on a persons representation of the world


Understanding of surprise

Can only be achieved when one understands false belief

--> it rehires an understanding that the representation of the world was disconfirmed


First order belief

A belief that involves having a belief about someone else having a belief

--> "I think that she thinks that.."


Second order belief

A belief that involves understanding that someone can belief about a third person

--> "I think that she thinks, that he thinks.."

(Age of 8)


WELMANS theory of the development of theory of mind

Childrens understanding of mind develops in 3 phases

2y/o: Children assume that peoples desires influence behavior

3y/o: Children consider a persons desires and beliefs about the world

4y/o: Children acknowledge beliefs can also had inaccurate interpretations


PERNERs theory of the development of theory of mind

When children understand "metarepresentation" they will understand theory of mind

--> understanding the distinction between what is being referred to and what is being represented


Which impairments do children with autism have in regard to theory of mind ?

1. Qualitative impairments in social interaction

--> Failure to develop relations, lack of eye contact

2. Qualitative impairments in communication

--> Delay in development of language

3. Restricted repetitive + stereotyped patterns one behavior


Why are children with ASD unable to master the "Sally Anne task" ?

Children with ASD have difficulty in tasks that require the appreciation of another false belief

--> Only 20% of children with ASD at the age of 4 succeeded


Mechanical story

The action of this kind of story does not involve any people


Behavioral story

People are included but it does not require an understanding of what they are thinking


Mentalistic story

Requires an understanding of the beliefs of the characters in the story

--> ASD children were unable to understand these kinds of stories


False photograph task

Test of understanding non mental representations

--> taking a picture of a bear on the chair, then moving it to the bed

Will the picture show the bear on the chair or on the bed ?

--> children with ASD have no difficulty with non mental representations


Joint/Shared attention mechanism

Mechanism that combines information about our own direction of gaze and another persons direction of gaze

--> allows a child to understand the focus of another's attention

=> lack of shared attention is an early deficit in ASD


The emergence of theory of mind before the age of 4

Preschoolers: Can perform correctly if key features of the narrative are overlearned or of a specific phrasing is used

<2 y/o: Children understand desires + emotions, as being subjective

--> differing social interactive experiences shape childrens minds

--> differences in how families talk about their feelings might shape their understanding of emotions


Theory of mind deficit

States that individuals with autism fail to impute mental states to themselves and others

Problem: 20% of autistic children passed the false belief task

--> deficit is not universal


Executive dysfunction theory

Suggests that autism can be explained as a deficit in executive functions in the brain

--> not all individuals with autism show executive problems


Inhibition test

Test in wich the participant has to inhibit a prepotent response

--> children with autism have difficulties here


Executive memory tests

Task in which participants have to shift their attention between stimuli

--> children with autism have no cognitive flexibility


Reduced generalization theory

People with autism have difficulties generalizing newly learned behavior to a new environment

--> fail to see connections


Domain - General Theories

Development of ToM stems from a general skill which has effect on several different areas

--> ToM abilities
--> understanding of physical aspects
--> language


Domain - Specific Theories

Development of ToM stems from special knowledge, processes + mechanisms that only affect ToM skills