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Theory of Mind
Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others. As originally defined, it enables one to understand that mental states can be the cause of—and thus be used to explain and predict—others’ behavior. Being able to attribute mental states to others and...
Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others. As originally defined, it enables one to understand that mental states can be the cause of—and thus be used to explain and predict—others’ behavior. Being able to attribute mental states to others and understanding them as causes of behavior means, in part, that one must be able to conceive of the mind as a “generator of representations” and to understand that others’ mental representations of the world do not necessarily reflect reality and can be different from one’s own. It also means one must be able to maintain, simultaneously, different representations of the world. It is a ‘theory’ of mind in that such representations are not "directly observable" . Many other human abilities—from skillful social interaction to language use—are said to involve a theory of mind.
Beyond the basic definition of ToM, there is considerable debate as to precisely what other kinds of abilities and understandings constitute a theory of mind, when these abilities develop, and who can be said to have a theory of mind. How one defines the basic mental states that underlie ToM structures the possibilities and limits of the field. Inherent in ToM is the understanding that others are intentional agents, that is, individuals whose behavior is goal- or perception-driven—and so debate about ToM has also reignited previous arguments on the nature of intentionality. In addition, efforts at defining the "mind"—generally understood as the totality of one’s conscious thoughts and perceptions—are relevant to the discussion of ToM. Although these debates are important, they do not inhibit the ToM research and progress in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. In fact, empirical research often sheds light back on the nature of these concepts.
Research on theory of mind in a number of different populations (human and animal, adults and children, normally- and atypically-developing) has grown rapidly in the almost 30 years since Premack and Woodruff's paper "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?", as have the theories of theory of mind. The emerging field of neuroscience has also begun to address this debate, through brain imaging of subjects who fail ToM tests and through exploration of the potential neural basis of the abilities that underlie ToM, in particular, so-called "mirror neurons".
Theory of mind appears to be an innate potential ability in humans (and, some argue, in certain other species), but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring successfully to adult fruition. It is probably a continuum, in the sense that different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind, varying from very complete and accurate ones, through to minimally functional. It is often implied or assumed (but not stated explicitly) that this does not merely signify conceptual understanding "other people have minds and think," but also some kind of understanding and working model that these thoughts and states and emotions are real and genuine for these people and not just ungrounded names for parroted concepts. Empathy is a related concept, meaning experientially recognizing and understanding the states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others without injecting your own, often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes."
Health & Science
| Started October 2007
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A Life Lived Ridiculously - RAVE REVIEWS
If you haven't already been seduced by the rave review on Psych Central (http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/a-life-lived-ridiculously/) or by the TV interview on NBC Nonstop (http://youtu.be/1yxG_uwBLxk), then please enjoy the latest review by the highly respected Review Broads (http://thereviewbroads.com/2012/10/a-life-lived-ridiculously.html/).
I am a research scientist and a writer, with a PhD in neuroscience from University College London.
A Life Lived Ridiculously tells the story of a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder who makes the horrible mistake of falling in love with a sociopath.
I hope others enjoy A Life Lived Ridiculously as much as the reviewers have enjoyed reviewing it...
Dr Annabelle R. Charbit
started this discussion 8 months ago.
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