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Theory of Mind - Comments

Bala's Avatar Comment 1 by Bala

Wonder where mirror neurons come into the picture!

Thu, 20 May 2010 03:19:28 UTC | #471581

Stephan's Avatar Comment 2 by Stephan

I wish he hadn't said "It's something you must learn and not something you're born with" in the end. I mean, this may well be true, but I think it is confusing and plays right into ther hands of all these "blank slate", "tabula rasa" social consructivist folks against, at the end of the day, the whole of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology are "fighting". We are clearly born with a theory of mind capacity and with brain modules dedicated to theory of mind and realted operations. So it's NOT something that is ONLY been learned or cultural. It is, like many other things, something that has a biological and psychological basis (and presumably a Darwinian background). It only needs to b "triggered" and "learned" in that sense.

Thu, 20 May 2010 05:20:44 UTC | #471596

Mr.Samsa's Avatar Comment 3 by Mr.Samsa

Comment 2 by Stephan
I wish he hadn't said "It's something you must learn and not something you're born with" in the end. I mean, this may well be true, but I think it is confusing and plays right into ther hands of all these "blank slate", "tabula rasa" social consructivist folks against, at the end of the day, the whole of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology are "fighting". We are clearly born with a theory of mind capacity and with brain modules dedicated to theory of mind and realted operations. So it's NOT something that is ONLY been learned or cultural. It is, like many other things, something that has a biological and psychological basis (and presumably a Darwinian background). It only needs to b "triggered" and "learned" in that sense.

That's just ridiculous.

Talking about a "Theory of Mind" capacity is exactly why Robert Seyfarth noted that it was a learnt trait and that we weren't born with it - so people wouldn't mistakenly think that we were born with a ToM capability that needed to be "switched on" or "triggered".

It's true that we need to have certain genetic traits to make ToM possible, like having eyes and ears, being able to piece together basic patterns, etc, but this is a wholly different claim from being born with a specific ToM capacity that needs to be triggered. In other words, we were born with legs and evolution selected for this, but that doesn't mean we need to discuss a "bicycle riding capacity" when we're talking about how people learn to ride a bike.

It's trivially true. And whilst there may be idiotic blank slatists in the public sphere, no scientist holds this view and, as far as I'm aware, no scientific movement has ever held this view - despite what Pinker tried to argue. The 'nature-nurture' debate wasn't blank slatists against genetic determinists (as both of those positions are obviously wrong), it was between those who argued for the greatest influence of environment over genetics, and those who argued for the greatest influence of genetics over environment. The general conclusion of the debate was that the debate was irrelevant as it doesn't matter which is "more important".

The point of the matter here is scientific accuracy. Whilst it may be interesting to figure out what neurological factors are necessary for us to be able to learn ToM, it is simply wrong to say anything other than "It is something you must learn and not something you're born with". If evolutionary psychology disagrees, then it needs to cut out all the crap from the field and start doing some real science instead of the pseudo-scientific pop science they are currently engaging in (with a few obscure exceptions).

Thu, 20 May 2010 08:30:37 UTC | #471624

FreeWillyB's Avatar Comment 4 by FreeWillyB

Thanks!

Thu, 20 May 2010 08:38:07 UTC | #471628

tkeenan's Avatar Comment 5 by tkeenan

I think if we're going to speak of scientific accuracy, it's fair to say that Professor Seyfarth's claim that children do not have a theory of mind prior to age 4, when they fail the false belief task, is not correct.  I think a better way to phrase it would be to say that they have a theory which does not include the possibility of misrepresentation, that is, that another person's beliefs could misrepresent a state of affairs in the world (such as Sally mistakenly thinks her ball is still in the basket when in reality, it's been moved to the box).  The 3-year-old has a theory, namely, that beliefs mirror or copy reality. 

One of the nice features of the 'theory theory' approach to theory-of-mind development is that it lends itself to gradualism.  Whether you happen to believe the entire set of theories a child will hold is constructed or emerges from an inbuilt capacity to conceptualize other minds, the theory theory allows us to understand children's performance on tasks indexing theory of mind as a process of gradually acquiring more complex understandings of the social and mental world.  

Thu, 20 May 2010 13:26:21 UTC | #471672

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 6 by rsharvey

Comment 2 by Stephan
I wish he hadn't said "It's something you must learn and not something you're born with" in the end. I mean, this may well be true, but I think it is confusing and plays right into ther hands of all these "blank slate", "tabula rasa" social consructivist folks against, at the end of the day, the whole of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology are "fighting". We are clearly born with a theory of mind capacity and with brain modules dedicated to theory of mind and realted operations. So it's NOT something that is ONLY been learned or cultural. It is, like many other things, something that has a biological and psychological basis (and presumably a Darwinian background). It only needs to b "triggered" and "learned" in that sense.

Precisely

I like Steven Pinker's analogy of baby birds 'learning' to fly. 

Thu, 20 May 2010 14:56:26 UTC | #471696

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 7 by Anaximander

Whilst it may be interesting to figure out what neurological factors are necessary for us to be able to learn ToM...

Here (in our laboratory) we try to study how not to learn ToM and how to learn Not ToM and what is the difference. It now seems that to learn Not ToM is much more difficult than to learn ToM or even not to learn ToM.

But this is just a preliminary result; more needs to be done.

Thu, 20 May 2010 17:28:27 UTC | #471757

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 8 by Bonzai

Pros:

Finally it is not Dan Dennett.

It sounds like something really interesting with some real data and facts rather than dogmas, -isms and long winded arm chair pontifications.

Cons:

Haven't got a chance to watch it yet..

Updated: Thu, 20 May 2010 18:33:27 UTC | #471785

Simonw's Avatar Comment 9 by Simonw

Topping one of my other RSS feeds an article that notes depending how you phrase the question changes how many three year olds have a "Theory of Mind" - hmm.

http://www.parentingscience.com/cognitive-development.html

It was fairly obvious to me for a long time that some of what the psychologists seem to believe about young children in this area is contradicted by common experience. Recent parenting experiences have led me to believe that they are even further from the truth. On the other hand I can quite believe getting a two year old to co-operate with an experiment might be beyond modern science.

Thu, 20 May 2010 20:31:15 UTC | #471818

Mr.Samsa's Avatar Comment 10 by Mr.Samsa

Comment 5 by tkeenan
I think if we're going to speak of scientific accuracy, it's fair to say that Professor Seyfarth's claim that children do not have a theory of mind prior to age 4, when they fail the false belief task, is not correct.  I think a better way to phrase it would be to say that they have a theory which does not include the possibility of misrepresentation, that is, that another person's beliefs could misrepresent a state of affairs in the world (such as Sally mistakenly thinks her ball is still in the basket when in reality, it's been moved to the box).  The 3-year-old has a theory, namely, that beliefs mirror or copy reality. 

Sure, if we interpret ToM that way but most researchers require a full ToM in order to claim that something/someone has a theory of mind. So if they fail a task that has been set up to test if they have ToM, but pass some other variations, then the strongest claim they can make is that they have a "proto-ToM" or they have the precursor to ToM. They don't have a theory of mind, as it is commonly understood.

The problem is that, as you've pointed out, ToM is not a singular process that people either have or don't have - it's a collection of processes and infants or animals possess some of these processes but often not all.

Comment 6 by rsharvey
Precisely I like Steven Pinker's analogy of baby birds 'learning' to fly.

That would be an incorrect analogy as birds have numerous reflexes and fixed action patterns which actually are in the brain specifically in order to help them acquire flight. So far we have no reason to think this is similar to how animals learn ToM.

Comment 7 by Anaximander
Here (in our laboratory) we try to study how not to learn ToM and how to learn Not ToM and what is the difference. It now seems that to learn Not ToM is much more difficult than to learn ToM or even not to learn ToM. But this is just a preliminary result; more needs to be done.

Interesting.. What animals are you using? If you're using humans then I'd be incredibly interested in hearing how you ruled out the "natural" training they receive in daily life. But even with animals it would be difficult to rule it out completely..

Has anything been published yet or are you able to go into a bit of detail about how you set up the Not ToM and ToM conditions?

I'm not sure exactly what your results would imply though. Just because something is easy to learn (or as Seligman would put it: "prepared") does not necessarily mean it's selected for or has any real significance beyond basic practicality or inevitability. For example, we know that key pecking in pigeons is a "prepared" response (it takes very little to no training), whereas teaching a lever press with pigeons appears to be "unprepared", and arguably "counterprepared".

What can we say about these results? That key pecking in pigeons provided an evolutionary advantage in the past? So I don't think "preparedness" is necessarily an "a-ha!" finding, although it certainly does raise some interesting questions.

Fri, 21 May 2010 03:29:14 UTC | #471909

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 11 by Anaximander

What animals are you using?

Only humans!

But this is very complicated: not only do we have a theory of Mind (and the ability to learn ToM); we know we have a Theory of Mind (and we know we have the ability to learn ToM). And we know we have a theory that we have a Theory of Mind and we know... and you know that I know that... and so on.

There could be different theories about the Theory of Mind (why do we have it and how it has evolved and so on) and about our ability to learn ToM; and some of those theories could be better and could be used, for example, to manipulate other human beings.

Then there is the question about the difference between those who do not have the ability to learn ToM (we have found some examples) and those who have the ability to learn to not ToM (we have not found any examples yet); and this is what we now study - but it so difficult because our brains were not "designed" to understand this. But when some people start to understand this, there might appear a selection pressure to be able to understand. What are the genes affecting this, we do not know yet.

Fri, 21 May 2010 11:27:13 UTC | #472008

Cestriana's Avatar Comment 12 by Cestriana

Autistic people (those with Asperger syndrome, at least)tend to lack theory of mind.

Fri, 21 May 2010 13:38:23 UTC | #472047

Mr.Samsa's Avatar Comment 13 by Mr.Samsa

Comment 11 by Anaximander : Only humans!

How could you possibly measure Not ToM with humans then? To teach a human child Not ToM, you have to essentially "overwrite" the massive amount of training they have received up until that point, as well as the constant training they receive on a daily basis.. So of course it's easier for them to learn ToM compared to Not ToM...

Comment 11 by Anaximander : But this is very complicated: not only do we have a theory of Mind (and the ability to learn ToM); we know we have a Theory of Mind (and we know we have the ability to learn ToM). And we know we have a theory that we have a Theory of Mind and we know... and you know that I know that... and so on.

Sure... but that's irrelevant. The fact that ToM has recursive properties is part of the definition of ToM, so pointing out that it works in overarching loops is simply re-stating the definition of ToM. Once we have a process that operates on this 'higher level' with recursive/reflective properties, we don't have to explain how it keeps working.

Fri, 21 May 2010 13:43:52 UTC | #472053

Stephen Collinson's Avatar Comment 14 by Stephen Collinson

I have an severly autistic son who has no theory of mind at all. I wonder if comparing Samuel to others brain scans could teach us anything about what is missing? Does anyone know how I would contact Robert Seyfarth about his research?

Sat, 22 May 2010 20:18:51 UTC | #472524

Bludwine2309's Avatar Comment 15 by Bludwine2309

I'm not crazy about his incorrect use of the word "knowledge."

Mon, 24 May 2010 06:28:01 UTC | #472914

Iain Mott's Avatar Comment 16 by Iain Mott

Comment 14 by Stephen Collinson :

I have an severly autistic son who has no theory of mind at all. I wonder if comparing Samuel to others brain scans could teach us anything about what is missing? Does anyone know how I would contact Robert Seyfarth about his research?

Hi,

There are quite a few places that one can go for such tests, but performing brain scans can be quite tricky. There are Autism research units at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the new World Autism Centre in Cardiff.

Brain scans usually involve performing a task whilst your brain is being monitored. As an autistic person I try and make myself available as much as possible for research and although I'm 'high-functioning', I can still find this quite challenging (not that the State cares....) The latest test that I've been through tested different areas of conciousness and were fascinating. In 'normal' life we don't usually get to test the limits of our consciousness.

There is a very good book by Simon Baron-Cohen called Mindblindness which I highly recommend, published by MIT press. It lays out a hypothesis about ToM and details how certain attributes may be tested, but unfortunately stops there. (Have the experiments been done? Were they successful or not? - I don't know)

All the best.

Tue, 01 Jun 2010 11:58:51 UTC | #475330

mickleby's Avatar Comment 17 by mickleby

Comment 2 by Stephan :

I wish he hadn't said "It's something you must learn and not something you're born with" in the end. I mean, this may well be true, but I think it is confusing and plays right into ther hands of all these "blank slate", "tabula rasa" social consructivist folks against, at the end of the day, the whole of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology are "fighting". We are clearly born with a theory of mind capacity and with brain modules dedicated to theory of mind and realted operations. So it's NOT something that is ONLY been learned or cultural. It is, like many other things, something that has a biological and psychological basis (and presumably a Darwinian background). It only needs to b "triggered" and "learned" in that sense.

I agree with you, Stephan. I'm curious if Prof. Seyfarth misspoke when he chose to say "we learn" this skill. Given the fact that billions of us do this, it's pretty hard to deny the biological basis.

I wish I hadn't been exposed to this idea that we are cognitively developed prior to puberty because I think it interfered with my self-awareness and with my development as a self and with my development of a "rational" view of our species and of species generally.

I hope Mr. Samsa didn't discourage you with comments like "ridiculous", "trivially", "obscure",... But I did enjoy his repeated use of the term 'whilst'.

Hence, thither whence hither I slithered! =)

Sun, 13 Jun 2010 19:08:46 UTC | #480033

ulvirgajbd@mailinator.com's Avatar Comment 18 by ulvirgajbd@mailinator.com

Hello all

Wed, 28 Jul 2010 07:42:56 UTC | #493656

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

Some problems with this is the influence of culture and language on the development of the human mind. I think the test is testing for naivety, and not about other minds. People 'talk' and so this is already an indication to a young child that there are other minds. How does a child before the age of six perceive as to where language comes from? Do they recognise their own internal voice as their own or do they vocalise all such thoughts.

There really is little surprise about this test but fails to take into account that much about humans and human culture is about learning, especially in terms of language. And it is language that is internalized to produce thoughts.

Sat, 21 Aug 2010 14:48:29 UTC | #503415

elenaripoll's Avatar Comment 20 by elenaripoll

I know 100% I had major language delay as a child,

So I have hardly any memories of my childhood prior to age 6, but through self reading extensively about Psychoanalysis, personality disorders, mental illnesses e.t.c, (I'll understand the concepts of the books but I cannot speak or write these concepts down clearly in an intellectual format, and cannot seem to improve my grasp of language further no matter how many books I read and some books I can't even get past the first page, the language is too difficult for me)

my mind seems to have expanded somewhat, and in my own thoughts I seem to have become a free/radical thinker, so It feels sometimes like my internal voice is supreme and free, a bit like Stephen Hawkins lol, but I cannot vocalize or write down easily my thoughts in my head.

I saw a documentary once on a guy that cured himself entirely from psychophrenia in his late adulthood, and then went on to work in the field of mental health.

So If we have the power to cure ourselves from certain mental illnesses what's the trigger? could it be connected to the voice of reason in your head growing?, and being an Atheist or becoming an atheist? is the first step wanting to become an atheist lol?

...and I'm wondering now just how much money is friggin wasted in the NHS in providing really crap mental health services lol if we can cure ourselves, probably a bit like getting off drugs, you have to want to get off them first.

Getting off Religion, you have to want to first maybe !!!!

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 20:36:19 UTC | #523502

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 21 by aquilacane

Comment 2 by Stephan

I wish he hadn't said "It's something you must learn and not something you're born with" in the end. I mean, this may well be true, but I think it is confusing and plays right into ther hands of all these "blank slate", "tabula rasa" social consructivist folks

I'm more concerned about how honest the statement is and how it is supported by evidence than I am about how it upholds the hypothesis' of any one group over the other. If it turns out that blank slate nuts are right then they are right, if it turns out otherwise then it is otherwise. Wanting the evidence to be anything other than what it is so you can disprove someone else's hypothesis is the wrong reason to do science. If "it may well be true", why would you wish for anything else?

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 17:40:32 UTC | #537388

Heidious's Avatar Comment 22 by Heidious

This reminds me of a story my ex used to tell me.

When she was about 3 or 4 her Mum used to get her to play a hiding game when she saw her Dad coming back from work. My ex would then frantically look for a place to hide so she could jump out and surprise her Dad in that innocent child-like way.

When once she couldn't find anywhere in the house to hide in time she said she stood in the middle of the room and covered her eyes with her hand, figuring that if SHE couldn't see HIM then HE couldn't see HER.

I wonder if that relates to what Robert Seyfarth said about the girl hiding the ball.

Tue, 26 Oct 2010 09:33:25 UTC | #538577