|See also the General Psychology lectures on|
Psychology offers three principal views of
Although there are developmental psychologists who are primarily interested in development throughout the entire lifespan, from birth to death, most work in developmental psychology is focused on infants and children. In various ways, it addresses a single question:
What is the difference between the mind of an adult and the mind of a child?
In answering this question,
developmental psychology has focused on two sorts of
developmental psychology has been dominated by two views of
The literature on newborns' preference for faces offers an example of the nativist-empiricist debate. Do infants come out of the womb already knowing something about, and interested in, faces? Or is their knowledge of, and interest in, faces acquired through experiences of being fed and comforted?
A series of studies by Morton, Johnson, and their colleagues (e.g., 1991) showed that newborns prefer to look at objects that resemble faces, over objects that have the same features arranged in a non-face-like configuration.
One study presented newborn infants, tested within the first hour or so after birth, with a face-like stimulus, a stimulus with the same features arranged in a non-face-like configuration, and a blank stimulus.scrambled. The infants were pretty uninterested in the blank stimulus, but showed more interest in the face-like stimulus than in the non-face-like one.
Another study confirmed this finding: newborn infants preferred the face-like stimulus to one that had a face-like configuration but not face-like features, another consisting of a linear arrangement of facial features, and yet another that inverted the configural stimulus.
Interestingly, however, a further study of infants who were 5, 10, and 19 weeks old showed no preference for faces (compared to the configural stimulus) for the five-week-olds. Apparently, newborns have a preference for faces that 5-week-olds have lost, and then regain by 10 weeks!
The apparent paradox was
resolved by Morton and Johnson with a "two-process" theory
of face recognition.
Interestingly, infants also distinguish among faces by racial features. Scott (2012) found that 5-month-old infants matched happy sounds (like laughter) with happy faces equally well, regardless of the race of the face. But by 9 months of age, the infants more readily associated those same happy sounds with faces representing their own race, compared to other-race faces.
processes change over time was demonstrated in an early
study by Peevers and Secord (1973), who asked subjects in
various age groups (kindergarten, 3rd, 7th, and 11th grades,
and college students) to describe three friends and one
disliked person, all of the same gender as the
subject. The spontaneous descriptions emerging from
these interviews were then coded for various features:
Remarkably, the descriptions had very little depth at any age. However, high-school and college students did begin to show some appreciation that other people's characteristics were more conditional than stable and consistent.
Over the 20th century, developmental theories gradually shifted their focus away from debates over the cognitive starting point, as in the debate between nativism and empiricism, and toward debates over the cognitive endpoint. Thus, developmental psychology began to take on a "teleological" perspective, asking "What is the child developing toward?".
From one empiricist standpoint, for example, the notion of a cognitive endpoint doesn't make any sense: you start out knowing nothing, and you keep learning until you die.
An early example of this shift in viewpoint came with the work of Kurt Goldstein and Michael Scheerer (1941), who construed cognitive development as the development of abstract thinking.
But this shift really began
with Jean Piaget, whose theory of development combined
aspects of both nativism and empiricism. Piaget held
that the neonate comes into the world with an innate
cognitive endowment, in terms of a set of primitive
cognitive schemata. Just as a genotype develops into a
phenotype through interaction with the environment, Piaget
argued that development occurs as a dialogue between these
schemata and the environment:
argued that the child's developmental progress was marked by
a series of milestones. Most of these pertained to
"nonsocial" aspects of cognition:
The loss of egocentrism marks the transition between the pre-operational period and concrete operations, and typically occurs sometime between ages 4 and 7. Egocentrism is related to conservation, another milestone of this transition, in that children who have lost egocentrism understand that the same object can look different, depending on their point of view. But in the context of social cognition, the loss of egocentrism reflects the child's ability to appreciate what is on another person's mind.
Egocentrism is related to the idea that cognitive development consists in the development of a theory of mind.
In the course of a debate over nonhuman cognitive abilities, Premack and Woodruff (1978) suggested that humans (and perhaps other primates, especially great apes) had a theory of mind -- the understanding that we have mental states of belief, feeling, and desires, that other people also have mental states, and that their mental states may differ from our own.
With respect to psychology, the basic elements of a theory of mind are as follows:
Viewed in this way, the theory of mind is not just an aspect of cognitive development. It is very much the development of social cognition.
The concept of theory of mind was quickly imported into human developmental psychology, as exemplified by interest in the false belief task, a variant on Piaget's "three mountain" test of egocentrism.
The false-belief task is new to psychology, but the basic idea is as old as the Hebrew Bible. Genesis 27 tells the story of Jacob and Esau. Rebekah bore Isaac twin sons: Esau, who was hairy, was delivered before Jacob, who was smooth-skinned; therefore Esau was, technically, the oldest son. However, Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25). As Isaac approached death (at this point he was 123 years old, and blind), he decided to bestow a blessing on his firstborn. However, Rebekah had heard a prophecy that Jacob would lead his people, and "the older shall bow down to the younger". Isaac sent Esau out to hunt game for a l meal. Meanwhile Rebekah prepared a meal, and instructed Jacob to present it to Isaac as if he were Esau. When Jacob protested that Isaac would not be fooled, because he had smooth skin. Rebekah covered his arms and back with goatskin. She knew that Isaac would be fooled into thinking that Jacob was really Esau. The ploy worked, Esau was cheated again, and -- to make a long story short -- the children of Jacob went on to become the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
A somewhat more recent example comes from the great Act II finale in Mozart's opera, the Marriage of Figaro (1786). Figaro is valet to Count Almaviva; he is about to marry Susanna, personal maid to the Countess. They learn that the Count intends to exercise his droit du siegneur on their wedding night. They plot with the Countess to fool the Count into thinking she is going to have an assignation with an Susanna, but instead he will encounter Cherubino, a page who is in love with the Countess. They also get Figaro to write a letter to the Count, informing him that the countess is having an assignation with an unknown man. While Susanna and Cherubino are exchanging clothes in the Countess's rooms, the Count appears unexpectedly. They hide Cherubino in a locked closet. The Count leaves to find tools to break down the closet door, taking the Countess with him. Meanwhile, Cherubino escapes through a window and Susanna takes his place. When the Count and Countess return, the Countess tries to explain why he's about to find Cherubino hiding in her closet. But when the Count opens the door, he finds Susanna instead. Susanna and the Countess also tell the Count that Figaro wrote the anonymous letter. Chagrined, the Count decides to forgive everyone. At this point, Figaro reappears. The Count, knowing everything, questions Figaro -- who, despite increasingly desperate hints from the Countess and Susanna, denies everything. And on it goes, for 20 minutes of duets, trios, quartets, quintets, and even a septet: all of it based on the idea that someone knows what someone else doesn't know.
A large number of studies (178, actually) reviewed by Wellman et al. (2001) show clearly that children aged 3 or younger typically fail the false belief task, while those aged 5 and older typically pass. The older children apparently possess an ability the younger ones lack -- the ability to infer the contents of someone else's mind.
children apparently have the same problem reading their own minds. In
the representational change task,
a variant on the false-belief task, children are shown that a crayon
box actually contains
candies. When asked what they thought the
box contained before they looked inside,
children younger than 3 tend
to say that they thought it contained candies;
children older than five say
they thought it contained crayons. Age trends for performance on the
representational change task precisely
parallel those obtained for the standard
It's possible to push performance on
the false-belief test by various manipulations, but in
general, 3-year-olds seem to fail, while 5-year-olds
Egocentrism and the "theory of mind" suggest that, from the
point of view of social cognition, the endpoint of development
is the emergence of intersubjectivity.
Like William James' story of the turtles, it's intentionality all the way down.
Intersubjectivity in Literature
We've already seen one literary example of intersubjectivity: the story of Jacob and Esau, which revolves around Rebecca's (and Jacob's) belief about what Isaac will believe. Rebekah tells Jacob what Isaac will believe. But there are lots more, once you know to look for them.
Consider the 'Polyphemus" episode from Homer's Odyssey (Book IX). Odysseus and his men take shelter on the island of the Cyclopes, in the cave where Polyphemus lives with his sheep, and start eating his food. Polyphemus comes home, imprisons them, and begins to eat Odysseus' men. Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk, and while he is asleep, the surviving men blind him with a sharpened tree trunk. But they're still prisoners. How to get of the cave? When Polyphemus lets the sheep out the next morning to graze, he feels the back of each sheep to make sure that none of Odysseus' men are escaping. But Odysseus has instructed his men to suspend themselves underneath the sheep's bellies. Odysseus knows what Polyphemus will believe.
Earlier, when Odysseus had demanded that he receive proper treatment as Polyphemus' guest (hospitality is a major theme in the Odyssey) Polyphemus had promised that he would eat Odysseus last. When Polyphemus, in turn, demanded the name of his "guest", Odysseus replied "Noman" (actually, of course, the Greek equivalent). Polyphemus then promised that "I will eat Noman last!". Big joke. But after Odysseus and his men had made their escape, Polyphemus called for assistance. When his fellow Cyclopes asked who was harming him, he cried "Noman is harming me". So nobody came to help. Odysseus knew what the other Cyclopes would infer from Polyphemus' response.
another one, in Shakespeare's Othello (from Robin
Dunbar, 2004). In the play, Iago plants
Desdemona's handkerchief so that Othello will
believe that she is in love with Cassio.
That's two levels of intersubjectivity, three
levels of intentionality, right there:
But then, when you think about it,
there are actually two more levels. In order
for the play to work,
literary scholar Lisa Zunshine has argued that
multi-level intersubjectivity plays a big role in
the English novel, beginning with the work of Jane
Austen. In Persuasion (1818), Anne
Elliot is shopping in the town bakery with her
sister Elizabeth, when her former fiance,
Wentworth (Anne had been persuaded to
break their engagement) walks in. Anne
recognizes Wentworth right away. So does
Elizabeth, but she pretends not to notice him, and
Wentworth pretends to ignore the fact that he's
not been acknowledged.
According to Zunshine (2007), this
complex, recursive intentionality was essentially
Austen's invention. Certainly it only
becomes a major feature of English literature with
her work. In earlier English novels, such as
Henry Fielding's Tom
Jones (1749), there is much less portrayal of the
characters' mental states.
The Economist, in an
unsigned article (07/15/2017) commemorating
the 200th anniversary of Austen's death, wrote
Going from the sublime to the less-sublime, consider this famous episode of the TV sitcom, Friends:
Actually, I'm one of the few people in the universe who never watched Friends. I only learned about this from an article about Zunshine: "Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know" by Patricia Cohen (New York Times, 04/01/2010), from which some of this material is drawn
Back to Zunshine: She infers from psychological research that people can keep track of three levels of intentionality (X knows what Y knows about Z).
Zunshine (2011) has discussed the varying levels of intentionality in her concept of mental embedment -- by which she means the extent to which a narrative contains references to mental states. To take her examples:
Zunshine refers to the pattern
of embedment as sociocognitive complexity,
and argues that the "baseline" level of complexity
for fiction is the third level, "a mind within a
mind within a mind" -- the mind of the Reader, the
mind of the Narrator, and the mind of the
Moving from the sublime to the
ridiculous, an interesting example of
higher-order intersubjectivity in a dyad is
found in the "battle
of wits" scene from Rob Reiner's film, The
Princess Bride (1987).
For more on Zunshine's work, see her scholarly books:
Zunshine is not the only
literature scholar to make use of psychology and
There is, of course, a long history of humanists drawing on Freudian psychoanalysis to interpret literature -- essentially, viewing characters and plots as Freudian case studies. an excellent example is the Anxiety of Influence by Harold Bloom, a professor of English at Yale who argued that the relationships between poets can be understood as the working out of the Oedipus complex. writers This form of literary scholarship is still popular. However, while psychoanalysis might be useful for understanding literary (and other artistic works) influenced by psychoanalytic thinking, in general it seems like a bad idea to interpret literature in general based on a psychological theory that has been wholly discredited by modern science. One of the earliest proponents of using psychoanalytic theory in literary criticism was UCB's Frederick Crews; later, he saw the light, and became a vigorous critic of psychoanalysis, both as a vehicle for literary criticism and for psychotherapy. See, for example, Out of My System (1975); Skeptical Engagements (1986); and The Memory Wars: Freud's legacy in Dispute (1995). Crews also published two satirical books, in which he illustrated various modes of literary scholarship as they might be applied to the "Winnie the Pooh" books: The Pooh Perplex (1963) and Postmodern Pooh (2001); both make wonderful reading for readers who want to understand literary criticism better -- provided, of course, that you've read A.A. Milne's The Wind in the Willows.first!
And then there is literary
recapitulates the mistakes of
the Freudians by reading fiction, poetry, and
drama through the lens of
Darwin's theory of
evolution by natural
selection. The only
difference is that Darwin's
theory is valid and
Freud's is not.
But really, do we really
need Darwin to
understand that Pride
and Prejudice is about
the importance of making a
Nah. For a
critical account of
see "Adaptation", a
reviwe of several
books in this genre,
literary critic, in
Interestingly, you can have higher levels of intersubjectivity without involving more than two people, because one person can think about what a second person thinks about what the third person thinks. And here, too, it's "turtles all the way down".
Just as the false-belief task has served as
the "gold standard" for the acquisition of a theory of mind,
the false-belief task can be expanded indefinitely.
For example, Perner and Wimmer (1985) distinguished between
first-order and second-order false beliefs.
While 4- and 5-year-old children typically pass the 1st-order FB task, the majority of children don't pass the 2nd-order FB task until age 9 or 10, unless they are given special memory aids.
Of course, processing multiple levels of intersubjectivity makes great demands on cognitive resources. While in principle intersubjectivity can be infinitely recursive, there are cognitive constraints on what we can process.
For example, Kinderman et al. (1998) tested adult subjects on their understanding of stories that had up to five levels of intersubjectivity. As a check, they employed stories that had multiple levels of causality, but no intentionality. People could process four levels of intentionality (i.e., three levels of intersubjectivity) pretty well, but just fell apart at the fifth (fourth) level. But they were able to process up to six levels of causality perfectly well. So the problem is not in level, in the abstract, but specifically in level of intentionality or level of intersubjectivity. Given George Miller's "Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two", we might think that we could handle about seven levels of intentionality, but we can't; intersubjectivity itself requires cognitive resources, and makes the limits on cognitive processing even more severe.
Just as first-order theory of mind is not the be-all and end-all of theory of mind, neither is the false-belief task. Wellman and Liu (1994) have offered a larger catalog of theory of mind abilities, including:
|Diverse Desires: That others might have desires that differ from their own.|
|Diverse Beliefs: That others might have beliefs that differ from their own.|
|Knowledge Access: That one has access to knowledge that others might lack.|
|False Belief: That others might have beliefs that differ from one's own, and that these beliefs might be false (this is tapped by the standard "false belief" test).|
|Explicit False Belief: That one's own beliefs might, indeed, be false.|
|The Relation between Beliefs and Emotion: That our emotional state depends on whether our beliefs prove to be true or false.|
|The Difference between Real and Apparent Emotion: That, for whatever reason, people might want to hide their true emotional states, so that what appears to be their emotional state might be different from that they actually feel.|
Testing a group of 3-5-year-olds, they
found that some of these ToM tests were generally
easier than others.
Wellman and Liu (1994) suggested that their test battery constituted a Guttman scale of theory of mind abilities. A Guttman scale (named for Lewis Guttman, an American statistician) is one in which scale items are arranged in increasing order of difficulty, such that an individual who passes one item can be assumed to pass all earlier items. Guttman scales promote efficiency in ability testing and attitude measurement, because we can begin in the middle of the scale: if the respondent passes that item, it can be assumed that s/he would have passed all earlier items as well. The SAT and GRE, as administered by computer, employ a version of Guttman scaling to reduce the time required to administer the test.
So it seems that 4-year-olds have a theory of mind, as assessed by the FB test, but three-year olds don't. But then again, the FB test is very verbal in nature, and it might be that younger children would pass the test if it were administered in nonverbal form.
After all, as Gopnik and Wellman (1992, p. 150) long ago concluded:
The 2-year-old is clearly a mentalist and not a behaviorist. Indeed, it seems unlikely to us that there is ever a time when normal children are behaviorists.... It seems plausible that mentalism is the starting state of psychological knowledge. But such primary mentalism , whenever it first appears, does not include all the sorts of mental states that we as adults recognize. More specifically, even at two years psychological knowledge seems to be structured largely in terms of two types of internal states, desires, on the one hand and perceptions, on the other. However, this knowledge excludes any understanding of representation.
Do 2-year-olds really have some concept of desire? A classic experiment
suggests that they do.
the infants were given three familiarization
On Trial 1, they saw an actor hide a (plastic) slice of watermelon in a green box.
On Trials 2 and 3 the actor returned and reached into the green box for the watermelon.
the infants were divided into four groups for
the belief-induction trial. The
infants, saw, for just one trial:
In the True Belief Green condition, the actor watched as the yellow box moved toward the green box.
In the True Belief Yellow condition, the actor watched as the watermelon moved from the green box to the yellow box.
In the False Belief Green condition, the actor was no longer present when the watermelon moved to the yellow box.
In the False Belief Yellow condition, the actor watched as the watermelon moved from the green box to the yellow one; but was no longer present when the watermelon moved back to the green box.
|On the Test Trial, the infants watched as the actor opened the door and reached into the green box or the yellow box.|
And, in fact, the infants looked longer on trials where an actor behaved in a way that seemed to contradict her (the actor's) understanding of where a plastic watermelon slice had been hidden. Apparently, even infants have some sense of what others believe, that their beliefs might be different from their own, and that their beliefs might be incorrect. If infants expect others to behave in accordance with their beliefs, and are surprised (and pay extra attention) when they do not do so, then it can be said that even infants, long before age 4, have a rudimentary theory of mind.
Actually, it's not always the case that infants look longer at events that violate their expectations. In some case, they look for less time at counter-expectational events. Nobody quite knows why. But in either case, a difference in looking times indicates that, from the infant's point of view, something has gone wrong. And that's all the logic of the experiment requires.
The Theory of Mind as an Actual Theory
OK, so little kids are
mentalists, not behaviorists. But does their performance
on these experimental tasks really mean really that they have a
theory of the mind? Maybe they just have a concept,
or an idea, about the mind and mental life -- a concept
that matches adult folk-psychology. Gopnik and Wellman
(1992) argue that the "theory" part of the theory of mind should
be taken seriously.
OK, but do kids actually do this? Again, Gopnik and Wellman (1992) argue that they do.
In these and other
ways, the child's theory of mind is not just an idea
about the mind, but a real theory about the nature of mental
An adult fMRI study suggests that
theory-of-mind processing may be performed by a
particular area in the brain. In this study, Saxe
and Kanwisher (2003) had adult subject read stories in
which they had to reason about either true and false
beliefs, mechanical processes, or human actions (without
These investigators found differential activation at the junction of the temporal and parietal lobes (also known as the temporo-parietal junction, or TPJ), which they tentatively named the temporo-parietal junction mind area. They also identified another area, in extra-striate cortex, which is activated when people think about body parts: they named this the extra-striate body area.
Simon Baron-Cohen (a pediatric psychiatrist and yes, cousin of the comedian Sacha) and others have argued that there are at least four elements to the theory of mind:
|An intentionality detector (ID), in which events are interpreted in terms of goals and desires. This is, of course, the "English" sense of intentionality. The intentionality detector is nicely revealed by the studies of Michotte and Heider and Simmel on phenomenal causality, in which goals -- " intentions" in the English sense of the word -- are attributed to inanimate objects.|
|An eye-direction detector (EDD), which detects both the presence of eyes and computes the direction of another person's gaze as "at me" or "not at me". The EDD interprets another person's gaze as "seeing", and makes the inference that the other person is aware of what its eyes are looking at.|
|A shared-attention mechanism (SAM), by which the subject assumes a relation between knowledge and seeing. The SAM goes beyond the EDD to assume a triadic relation between the Self, the Agent, and the Object -- i.e., that if the Self looks where the Agent is looking they'll see the same thing.|
|A theory of mind mechanism (ToMM), by which one person can infer another person's mental states.|
Baron-Cohen calls the theory of mind a capacity for mindreading. He further assumes that each aspect of mindreading is mediated by a separate cognitive module, and -- by extension -- a separate brain system.
Studies of biologically normal children summarized by Baron-Cohen (1995) indicate that most infants possess both ID and EDD by 9 months of age; they acquire SAM sometime between 9 and 18 months; and they acquire the ToMM sometime in their 4th year of age (as demonstrated by performance on the standard false-belief test).
For example, evidence of a shared-attention mechanism comes from infants' protodeclarative pointing gesture: an infant will point his fingers at some point in space, and then check the other person's gaze to make sure that she is looking there.
Scaife and Bruner (1975) argued that the mother will orient to the infant's gaze, and, within limits, the baby will orient to the mother's gaze. Based on Piagetian developmental theory, they argued that there were limits on egocentricity even before the child reached the stage of "concrete operations". Shared attention in infants shows that, even before "concrete operations", they appreciate that someone might be looking at something that they themselves cannot see.
evidence for a shared-attention mechanism comes from
a classic study by Butterworth & Cochran (1980),
which found that infants and mothers would
coordinate their gazes.
The principal finding was that the babies would almost always shift their gave when the mother looked at a point in the babies' field of vision, but not the mothers'; and also very frequently when the mother looked at a point that was already in their joint visual field. But they rarely shifted their gaze when their mothers looked at a field that was in the mothers' field of vision, but not the babies'.
However, Baron-Cohen's evidence for an intentionality detector in infants is somewhat indirect and anecdotal.
formal experiment,, Kuhlmeier, Wynn, and
Bloom (2003) produced better evidence for an
infant ID in an experiment that employed a
variant on the animation techniques introduced
by Michotte (1946) and Heider & Simmel
(1944). In this experiment, 5- and
12-month-old infants first habituated to a film
depicting a triangle "helping", or a square
"hindering", a ball's progress up a hill.
In the test film, the infants were presented
with a film depicting either the ball
approaching the square (a plot departure) or,
alternatively, the ball approaching the triangle
(a plot continuation).
The 12-month-olds discriminated between the two test films, while the 5-month-olds did not. But note the nature of the discrimination. In this case, the 12-month-olds looked longer at the plot continuation than they did at the plot departure. This isn't exactly what we'd expect, given the idea, discussed above, that infants pay more attention, and thus look longer, at counter-expectational events. You were warned that this doesn't always happen, and in fact it's possible that the relationship between expectancy and looking time is U-shaped. That is, infants will look at counter-expectational events for either a relatively long, or a relatively short, time. But the important result in the study was that the 12-month-olds did, in fact, discriminate between the two test films -- which suggests that they had some idea about the intentionality behind the two scenarios.
studies in the Wynn-Bloom, using variants on
this methodology, have pushed
back the acquisition of an intentionality.
In the Kuhlmeier et al.
(2003) study, the 5-month-old infants showed
no difference in looking times between the
"plot departure" and "plot continuation"
videos. But in an
experiment by Hamlin, Wynn, and Bloom
(2007), 5-month-olds reached for puppets
representing the "helping" and
"hindering" characters, and 3-month-olds spent more
time looking at the "helper" than the "hinderer"
(2010). So, even the 3-month-olds seemed
to have the concept of desire to help
and desire to hinder -- just the sort of
thing that would be a product of an
Baron-Cohen has also suggested that childhood autism is a case of mindblindness. He attributes the severe deficits in social behavior, communication, and imagination as specific impairments in social cognition, reflecting the child's lack of a theory of mind.
autism was first described by Leo Kanner in
1943, and the case studies that he presented
certainly seem to depict a child who does not
understand (or, at least, care) that other
people are sentient beings with thoughts,
feelings, and desires (or, at least, thoughts,
feelings and desires that are different from his
or her own).
illustrated his observations with a number of
case studies of autistic children.
about the same, but
independently, Hans Asperger, a Swiss
psychiatrist, made very similar observations,
illustrated with case studies, which he labeled "autistic
psychopathy". The two descriptions,
Kanner's and Asperger's, were remarkably
similar. Put bluntly, Asperger's
syndrome is autism with language. And
for that reason, it is
typically less severe
and more manageable.
These days, autistic syndrome is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder, along with Asperger's syndrome, first diagnosed in 1944, and a few other sub-types. According to the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published in 1994, autism was described as a disorder, emerging relatively early in development, affecting social functions, communication functions, and imagination.
between clasic autistic disorder (sometimes
called "Kanner syndrome"), and "Asperger's
fifth edition of DSM (DSM-5),released
in 2013, combines classic autism and
Asperger's syndrome under a single category
of autism spectrum disorder, with
the implication that Asperger's syndrome is
just a a milder form of autism. But if,
indeed, Asperger's syndrome is autism with
language, it's not quite right to put the
two syndromes on a simple continuum of severity. There may be qualitative
differences between them.
If so, perhaps these qualitative differences
will be recognized in DSM-6!
Advocacy groups for Asperger's syndrome have complained that such a move would stigmatize individuals who are just "different" from "neurotypicals", and shouldn't be treated as if they are mentally ill at all. For a vigorous critique of DSM-5's treatment of autism and Asperger's syndrome, see The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek (2013).
In these lectures, I am sticking with the DSM-IV classification.
One of the features of the modern novel is the view it gives of its characters' interior lives. But lately, several novelists have tried to write novels in which the central character is autistic -- someone who, given the clinical definition of autism, doesn't have much interior life. Eli Gottleib, who has written two novels inspired by his autistic brother -- one in the third person, the other in the first person -- reflected on this problem in an essay entitled "Giving a Voice to Autism" (Wall Street Journal, 01/05-06/2013). Gottlieb notes that the "Ur-text" for the "developmentally disabled" perspective in fiction is William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), which is written from the perspective of Benjy, a developmentally disabled adult -- not autistic, but perhaps mentally retarded or just plain brain-damaged.
...Faulkner produces his effects by shattering the normally smooth perceptual continuum into discrete chunks: "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming towards where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was running in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out and they were hitting".
The repetitive staccato sentences highlight Benjy's limited mental means, while the tone skates close to that literary cousin of the dysfunctional adult narrator: the child-voice. Books told from children's points of view often employ the same limited vocabulary, magical thinking, and emotional foreshortening as those of the developmentally disabled.
In the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, author Mark Haddon borrows from both camps and ventriloguizes the voice of a 15-year-old autistic [sic]: "Siobhan has long blond hair and wears glasses which are made of green plastic. And Mr. Jeavons smells of soap and wears brown shoes that have approximately 60 tiny circular holes in each of them.
In my own case, I'd originally cast the new book in the third person, but I found that I needed the ground-hugging intimacy available only with first-person narration. This, however, required a crucial adjustment away from the "literary" prose which is my default mode. a third-person sentence like this: "Sometimes his handlers would escort him to church, where the soaring, darkwood vault transfixed him, and the rich voice of the preacher as he spoke of hellfire an damnation moved the hair on the back of his neck," would end up transposed to this: "Sometimes she takes me to her mega-church where the Lord is so condensed that people faint and shout out loud at how much of the Lord there is. The preacher has a rich yelling voice and when the chorus sings it's like the bang of thunder that comes mixed with lightning."
Maybe physicists are right, after all, that the best thinking happens in childhood. My challenge in the new novel is to recover that buried perceptual-cognitive mix and haul it into the fictional light of day.
Despite the fact that Kanner and Asperger were seeing autistic children in the 1940s, and Rimland wrote a classic text on the syndrome in the 1960s, the literature on autism focuses almost exclusively on children, and we know relatively little about what happens when autistic children grow up. Autism promises to be a serious problem for mental health policy, as some provisions are going to be have to be made to take care of these individuals after their parents (and other family members) are no longer able to do so. The seriousness of the problem can be seen in the simple fact that diagnoses on the autism spectrum have increased exponentially over the past couple of decades.
The problem, and the possibilities of a good transition to
adulthood in autism, were highlighted in a series of articles
which appeared in the New York Times in 2011:
Interestingly, some autistic patients achieve what might be
called an "optimal outcome", in that they become able to manage
their social relations and navigate the social world (Fein et al.,
2013). These adults generally had a milder form of autism
The most prominent example of a person with autism who has made a
successful transition to adulthood is Temple Grandin, a professor
of animal science at Colorado State University, who was the
subject of a made-for-TV movie starring Claire Danes (of My
So-Called Life and Homeland fame). See
especially Grandin's recent book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking
Across the Spectrum (2013).
A study by Schultz, Gerlotti, & Probar (2001) found that autistic patients showed less activation of the "fusiform face area" when asked to discriminate between pairs of faces, compared to normal subjects. Of course, as we now know, the fusiform area is also recruited by tasks that involve perceptual recognition at subordinate levels of categorization, regardless of whether the stimuli are faces.
More to the point, autistic children appear to perform more poorly than normal children on the standard false-beliefs task.
A study by Peterson
and Siegel (1999) showed that autistic
children aged 9-10 years performed more
poorly on the false belief task than
normal children aged 4-5 years. A formal
meta-analysis by Happe (1995) showed that,
compared to normal
children, "high functioning" autistic
children are delayed by about 5 years in
passing the standard false-belief test.
The others may never pass it at all.
However, the lack of a ToMM may be a result, not a cause of autism. Autistic individuals have limited contact with other people, but so do the deaf children of hearing parents, who acquire sign-language late, and therefore have had somewhat impoverished interpersonal relationships. These children, too, show problems on the false-belief task, indicating that they, too, have problems with the ToMM.
later study by Peterson, Wellman, and Liu
(2005), employing a larger set of ToM
tasks, confirmed these results, but also
revealed some surprises. In this
study, autistic and deaf children aged
5-14 years old were compared to typical
preschoolers, aged 4-6 years old.
The deaf children included both native
users of sign language, and children who
learned to sign relatively late in
Baron-Cohen (1995), summarizing the available literature, concluded that even mentally retarded children possess ToMM. By contrast, one group of autistic children appears to lack the ToMM, while another group of autistic children appears to lack the SAM as well.
This general conclusion has held up, although there are not a few caveats to consider (e.g., Tager-Flusberg, 2007).
As a matter of historical record, it should be
noted that, while Baron-Cohen usually (and rightly) gets credit
for the mindblindness hypothesis of autism, the general idea was
floating in the air before he formulated it in quite this
way. B-C did his graduate studies in the Developmental Psychology Unit
at University College London, working with a large group of
developmental psychologists including
Uta Frith and Alan Leslie. Frith, in fact, was one of the
first developmental psychologists to take an interest in
autism (for an autobiographical account of her research,
see Frith, 2012), following publication
of Bernard Rimland's classic book on
Infantile Autism (1964).
Following a pattern established earlier for the study of
schizophrenia, as discussed in the General Psychologicy lectures on "Psychopathology
and Psychotherapy", Frith and her colleagues embarked on a series of studies comparing various aspects of human information processing in autistic and normal children,
using paradigms derived from the experimental
study of cognition. These studies quickly
focused on autistic children's deficits in social
skills -- as Frith put is, "how it was that
procesing information about the physical world
could be so good, while processing information
about [the]social world could be so poor" (2012,
p. 2077). Alan Leslie suggested that the
problem in autism was a failure to create "metarepresentations" of physical reality -- that is,
what philosophers call intentional states
of believing, feeling, and wanting; or what the
psychologist John Morton called "mentalizing". From there it was
only a very short step to B-C's
idea that autistic children lack a theory of
mind -- they lack the understanding that
mental states are
representations of reality.
Frith, for her part, is convinced that mindblindness is only part of the problem in autism, because -- as discussed by Tager-Flusberg (2007) as well -- autistic children have problems in the nonsocial domain as well. She argues that they also suffer from weak central coherence (WCC): "while the ability to discern a wide variety of things about the world around is strong, the drive to make these various things cohere is weak" (2012, p. 2080). While B-C's mindblindness hypothesis is grounded in the neuroscientific Doctrine of Modularity, as discussed in the lectures on "Social-Cognitive Neuroscience", WCC supposes that the mind is not entirely modular, and that coherence is a property of the mind as a general-purpose information-processing system.
Assuming that autistic
children really do lack a theory of
mind, there are at least three plausible
causal explanations for this (lack of)
With respect to a pure neurological account, one possibility is that autistic children and adults suffer from a malfunctioning mirror neuron system. Recall that mirror neurons, as the neural basis for social cognition, were discussed in the lectures on "Social-Cognitive Neuroscience". According to a popular theory, mirror-neuron systems in the frontal and parietal cortex, and in the limbic system, allow us to understand, and empathize with, the actions and emotional expressions of other people. If so, then it might be that autism, in which the patients apparently cannot understand and empathize with the actions and emotions of others, cannot do so because of a malfunctioning mirror-neuron system.
Just such a
hypothesis has been proposed by Ramachandran and Oberman (2006)
in their "broken mirrors" theory of autism.
R&O accept the view of autism as a form of , but argue that
this theory, written at the psychological level of analysis,
simply restates and summarizes the symptoms; a proper theory, in
their view, would have something to say about the biological
mechanism that causes mindblindness. They suggest
that this biological mechanism can be thought of as a "broken"
mirror neuron system.
As evidence for their theory, R&O report a study of "Mu"-wave blocking in autistic and normal children. The Mu wave is observed in the EEG as a regular, high-amplitude wave with a frequency of 8-13 cycles per second. If that sounds like EEG "Alpha" activity, to you, that's just what it is -- except that alpha activity is typically recorded in the occipital (visual) cortex, while mu activity is typically recorded in the frontal (motor) cortex. A notable feature if alpha activity is blocking: when the subject is presented with a surprising stimulus, alpha activity disappears (or is greatly suppressed), and replaced by high-frequency, low-amplitude "Beta" activity. It turns out that a similar blocking phenomenon occurs with mu waves, except that mu waves are blocked by engaging in, or watching, voluntary muscle activity. But not in autistic children. Comparing autistic and control children Oberman et al. (2006) found no mu-blocking when either group of subjects viewed balls in motion, and both groups showed substantial blocking when they made a voluntary arm movement; by contrast, the autistic children showed relatively little mu-blocking, compared to normals, when watching someone make a hand movement. Oberman et al. attribute this difference in mu-wave blocking to a malfunction in the mirror neuron system.
Further evidence comes from an fMRI study of the frontal MNS when autistic children were asked to imitate, or just observe, facial expressions of emotion. The extent of activation was negatively correlated with severity of symptoms along the autistic spectrum. Put another way, the more severe the child's autism, the less activation was visible in the MNS (Dapretto et al., 2006).
All of this seems quite
promising: Mirror neurons support mindreading; autistic
children appear to suffer from mindblindness; and autistic
children also seem to have problems with the functioning of the
mirror-neuron system that is the biological substrate of
mindreading. All well and good, until we recall, from the
lectures on "Social-Cognitive
Neuroscience", that there are problems with the
traditional interpretation of mirror neurons. They might
not be important for action understanding after all
(Hickok, 2011); and if they are not, there goes the whole
explanation of autism in terms of mirror neurons. Minor
Even accepting the "mindreading"
hypothesis of mirror-neuron function, there are still problems
with the hypothesis that autistic individuals suffer from a
"broken" mirror-neuron system (Gernsbacher, 2011). Mostly,
findings such as those described above have proved difficult to
According to Gernsbacher's 2011 tally:
The theory of mind, and
similar theories, currently dominate discussions of
social-cognitive development, but there are other approaches to
social-cognitive development that are also fruitful. Among
the most interesting of these is the social-cognitive
developmental (SCD) approach to the development of aspects
of personality, proposed by Olson and Dweck ((2008).
Instead of looking at the development of social cognition, such
as the ability to read other people's minds, the SCD approach
examines the role of social and cognitive processes in
development generally. That is, SCD traces the role of
social and cognitive processes in the development of such
features as the individual's gender identity and role,
aggressiveness, and achievement motivation.
In a sense, the SCD approach reverses the concerns of the ToM or "theory theory" approach, because it takes social cognition as a given, and looks at its effects on other aspects of social development and behavior. But at the same time, these same findings can be used to illustrate the child's developing theories about himself and the social world.
Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) argued convincingly for a continuity between humans and other (sic), nonhuman, animals. The evolutionary perspective (the "modern synthesis") which defines modern biology was quickly imported into psychology, with assertions of continuity at the level of mind and behavior, not just anatomy and physiology. Interestingly, the stage for this importation was set by Darwin himself, who argued in the Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) that there were similarities between humans and other animals in the facial and other bodily expressions of emotions -- a position revived in our time by Ekman with his work on innate "basic emotions". The implication is that social cognition is part of our evolutionary heritage, and that it is shared with at least some nonhuman species. Which raises the question:
What is the
difference between the mind of a
human and the mind of an animal?
The phylogenetic view
of development raises the same question as the ontogenetic view:
whether development is continuous or discontinuous. Either
way, though, it might be, to paraphrase Kagan, that "animals are
a lot smarter than we think" -- and that their intelligence
might extend to at least some aspects of the theory of mind.
The first was the mirror
test of self-awareness developed
by Gallup (1970), based on observations
originally made by Darwin himself. The
initial response of chimpanzees (and
other animals) to exposure to a mirror
is to engage in other-directed behaviors
-- i.e., to treat the reflection as a
conspecific. With continued
exposure, however, chimps begin to
engage in self-directed behaviors.
Gallup hypothesized that the chimps came
to recognize themselves in the mirror.
In a formal test of self-awareness, Gallup painted red marks on the foreheads of mirror-habituated chimpanzees. The painting was performed while the chimps were anesthetized and the paint was odorless, so the animals could only notice the spot when they looked at themselves in the mirror. The chimps' response was to examine the spots visually (by looking at themselves in the mirror, touch the spots, and visually inspect (and smell) the fingers that had touched the spots. Gallup argued that the chimpanzees recognized a discrepancy between their self-image and their image in the mirror.
Later experiments added methodological niceties, such as a comparison of marked and unmarked facial regions.
Another Povinelli study indicated that mirror self-recognition is relatively rare, even among chimpanzees. It happens, but it's rare.
Thus, not all chimpanzees show self-recognition in mirrors. In general, the effect is obtained from chimps who are sexually mature (but not too old), have been raised in groups, and have had prior mirror exposure.
The same mirror self-recognition effect is found in orangutans and human infants, but not usually in other primate species (the status of gorillas, such as the famous Koko, is controversial).
Self-Recognition in Solaris
In the great science-fiction film Solaris (Russian-language original scripted and directed in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky, based on the novel of the same title by Stanislaw Lem; English-language remake, 2002, by Steven Soderburgh, starring George Clooney), a psychologist, Kris, visits a space station orbiting the planet Solaris that has been the site of mysterious deaths. It turns out that the planet is a living, sentient organism, which has inserted creatures into the station based on images stored in the cosmonauts' (repressed?) memories. As soon as Kris gets to the station, he encounters the spitting image of Hari (she's named Rheya in the book), his late wife, who had committed suicide 10 years before. Searching through his baggage, the woman comes upon a picture of herself, but she does not recognize the image until she views herself, while holding the picture, in a mirror. It is clear that until that moment she had no internal, mental representation of what she looked like.
The episode does not appear in Lem's book, which appeared in 1961, long before Gallup's original article was published (at least I can't find it) -- though Lem does have some interesting remarks about Rheya's memory -- she doesn't have much, and one of her memories is illusory. But Tarkovsky's film appeared in 1972, so he would have had the opportunity to hear about Gallup's findings (which were prominently reported), and incorporate them into the script (losing the material about memory).
If it really
turns out that orangutans have
self-recognition, but gorillas do not,
the implication is that the capacity
for self-recognition arose
independently at least twice in
primate evolution. This is
because the evolutionary line that led
to modern orangutans, who pass mirror
off from the main line of
primate evolution before the slit which created the
line which led to modern gorillas,
which do not pass the mirror test.
The matter is complicated, however, because Hauser has obtained evidence for mirror self-recognition in cotton-top tamarinds, a species of monkeys that are, in evolutionary terms, quite distant from the great apes.
Gallup has argued that chimpanzees, at least, have bidirectional consciousness: they are responsive to events in the external world, and they are also aware of the relationship between these events and themselves. In his view, this last form of awareness is the hallmark of consciousness.
had a "theory
This paper --
written as a
the concept of
that at least
was able to
to humans. Sarah
infancy in the
(that's one of
Sultan, in the
slide on the
the fact that
Sarah loved to
a series of
showed a human
and trying to
Sarah was then
She was then
her TV set (as
she had already
to do for
her choice was
which she was
|Some of the problems concerned food. In
one, a bunch of bananas was suspended overhead, out of
reach of her human caretaker. The appropriate
solution was to step on a nearby box.
|Other problems did not concern food. For
example, a caretaker was trapped in a locked cage.
The appropriate solution was to get a key on a ring.
|Sarah's performance on all the tests was
excellent, regardless of whether the problems were about
food. In fact, Sarah was usually correct on the very
and Woodruff concluded that Sarah did,
indeed, have a theory of mind -- which
is to say that she was able to connect
representations of problems with
representations of their
that, in turn, required Sarah to
impute mental states to humans:
Evidence for a theory
of mind is evidence for social cognition
in nonhuman animals -- extending not
only to conspecifics, but to members of
other species as well
-- a point to
which I'll return later.
Mindreading in Nonhuman Species
Elaboration of the theory of mind by developmental psychologists has led to further research on animal awareness by comparative psychologists, using adaptations of the tasks developed for investigating various components of the theory of mind in infants and children. Baron-Cohen's modular theory of mindreading provides an excellent framework for reviewing this research.
For example, developmental studies show that infants consolidate the EDD by about 18 months. Povinelli and Eddy (1996) found that chimpanzees will likewise follow the general direction of the gaze of a human experimenter.
However, another experiment by Povinelli et al. (1999) suggested that chimpanzees lack SAM. That is, they did not interpret the pointing behavior of a human experimenter as referring to objects in the environment.
by Josep (sic)
version of the
task was the
test for a
theory of mind
version of the
test with a mixed
(as opposed to
case study of
well as a
sample of 4-
children, but not the 4-year olds,
performed well on both verbal and
nonverbal versions of the
test. In contrast, the
apes performed even more poorly than
the 4-year-old children.
Herrmann et al. (2007), working in Tomasello's laboratory, recently reported the performance of large groups of chimpanzees (M age = 10 years), orangutans (M age = 6 years), and children (M age = 2.5 years) on a Primate Cognition Test Battery which included a number of tests of social as well as physical skills -- including two tests of of the theory of mind. compared to the toddlers, the apes did quite well on physical skills involving space, quantity, and causality. But the apes fell down completely on tests of social learning, and also did poorly on the tests of ToM.
To summarize, species comparisons suggest that monkeys and even great apes are sorely lacking in mindreading abilities, even by the standards of 3-year-old human children. David Povinelli, a leading researcher in the area of primate cognition, has concluded that nonhuman primates appear to lack a theory of mind.
we have to be careful, because this
area of research is rife with
love not war)
This conclusion may seem to violate the Darwinian doctrine of psychological continuity, but there have to be some discontinuities, somewhere, unless you want to start looking for evidence of ToM in cockroaches. In commenting on this situation, Povinelli has turned Darwin on his head, reminding us that, despite the continuities uniting species, the whole point of evolution is to add new traits that aren't possessed even by close relatives. For humans, language appears to be such a trait. Perhaps consciousness, in the form of ToM, is another.
Still, the line of research on mirror self-recognition initiated by Gallup seems to indicate that chimpanzees, at least, have a rudimentary sense of self. And that, as we shall see, reveals a rudimentary consciousness.
In addition to the phylogenetic and ontogenetic views familiar to psychology, there is another view of development that can be found in other social sciences, such as economics and political science. This is a cultural view of development, by which it is held that societies and cultures develop much like species evolve and individuals grow. Which raises the question:
The Stages of Socio-Cultural Development
origins of this
cultural view of
development lie in
economy of Karl
Marx, who argued
that all societies
went through four
stages of economic
Marx further proposed that certain habits of mind, or modes of cognition, were associated with each stage of development. So, for example, it required a degree of consciousness raising to get peasants and workers to appreciate that they were oppressed by lords and management. Note that Marx didn't see any need for further consciousness raising for people to appreciate their oppression by communism.
1960, the American
W.W. Rostow offered
which he called the
stages of growth:
the same lines, in
stages of political
Stage theories of political and economic development are about as popular in social science as stage theories of cognitive or socio-emotional development have been in psychology!
Note, however, the implications of the term development, which suggests that some societies are more "developed" -- hence, in some sense better -- than others. Hence, the familiar distinction between developed or advanced and undeveloped or underdeveloped nations. The implication is somewhat unsavory, just as is the suggestion, based on a misreading of evolutionary theory, that some species (e.g., "lower animals") are "less developed" than others (i.e., humans). For this reason, contemporary political and social thinkers often prefer to talk of social or cultural diversity rather than social or cultural development, thereby embracing the notion that all social and cultural arrangements are equally good.
is this "diversity" view of
culture that prevails today --
which is why psychologists can
compare "Eastern" and "Western"
views of self and social
cognition, without any
implication that one view is
more developed than
another. They're simply
different -- cultural choices.
Early cross-cultural studies of mind were somewhat informal, in that they were not based on psychological theories of mental life, nor did they involves systematic inquiry about the theory of mind. Still, the observations are interesting (for details, see Lillard, 1997, 1998).
Mead, studying the Manus people of New Guinea, observed
that children in that culture were not animistic, but
adults were. This contrasts with the typical pattern
in the West, where children attribute minds to inanimate
objects (like their teddy bears), and then lose this
tendency as they grow up.
Kohlberg, studying the Atayal of Formosa, observed that
children in that culture did not believe that their dreams
were "real", but that adults did. This also
contrasts with the typical pattern in the West, where
children often confuse their dreams with reality, but
adults understand that dreams are "just dreams".
studied the Illongot, a headhunting tribe in the
Philippines. One of the striking features of the
Illongot is that, while they have a keen interest in
social relations, they have little interest in internal,
mental life. In Illongot culture, rinawa,
the seat of thought and emotion, is located in the
heart rather than the brain, and is held to be a property
of all living hings -- human, animal, and plant life as
well. Newborns are fully endowed with rinawa
at birth, which gradually leaves the body as the person
ages and disappears entirely at death. Rinawa
leaves the body during dreams. It can be stolen
through magic, and restored through ritual.
studied witchcraft in the Azande, a farming tribe in
Central Africa. The Azande sacrifice chickens for
use as oracles. Of course, some predictions are not
fulfilled, but from the Azande's point of view, the
oracles are never wrong. Rather, oracular errors are
attributed to witchcraft. In fact, all
unfortunate events are explained by witchcraft. The
Azande seem to have o sense of internal causation: all
causation is at the hands of external agents.
Witchcraft itself is held to be motivated by envy, and
accused witches always deny practicing witchcraft.
They're not doing it. Something else is doing it!
as I noted earlier, these are all fairly informal,
observational studies -- at least by the standards of
modern scientific psychology.
An early and excellent example of controlled cross-cultural research on social cognition was reported by Joan Miller (1984), involving Hindus living in the state of Gujarat, in India. She interviewed urban-dwelling Gujarati, as well as urban-dwelling Americans living in Chicago, asking them to explain various events.
Picking up on Miller's theme, Angeline Lillard (1997, 1998, 1999) has noted that there are two broad ways to explain behavior of all sorts:
Recall Rogoff's caution against thinking that
things that are commonplace in Western, developed, modern
European-American culture are "natural" or "normal". The
theory of mind is one such thing, and Lillard concludes, based
on her survey of cross-cultural data, that the theory of mind
might not be innate after all. She suggests that mind
may be a concept in Western "folk psychology" that has no
counterpart in other psychologies. While
European-Americans may prefer to explain behavior in terms of
mental states, what she calls "Other Folks'"
psychology -- may be quite different (in fact, some
other folks might not have a psychology at all!). There
may well be profound cultural differences in the concept of
mind, and in such details as the difference between thinking and
feeling. If so, the concept of "mind" may be a learned
cultural product, acquired through socialization, and maintained
by cultural transmission -- not something that is pre-adapted,
modular, and embedded in the architecture of the brain.
Perhaps, but even
Lillard concedes that some
aspects of folk psychology may
reflect the operation of
something resembling Chomsky's
Universal Grammar (UG).
That is, we may possess an
innate cognitive module for
explaining behavior -- a
cognitive module that is, in
turn, in evolved
neuroanatomy. She notes
that no culture is
absolutely behavioristic -- abjuring any
reference to mental
states. And all languages
have words that refer to mental
states, even if these words are
not commonly used. As in
Chomsky's UG, she suggests that
cultures vary in parametric
settings just as languages do,
so that behavioral explanation
varies from culture to culture
in terms of its constraints and
preferences -- variance which
comes through in adults'
conceptualizations of the causes
of behavior. What's universal in this UG, she
speculates, is false
is, we may be innately prewired
to take notice when behavior
does not accord with the way the
world really is -- as in the
standard false belief task or
its infant cognate.
Explaining this discrepancy may
take various culturally defined
forms. In modern, Western,
European-American culture, we
explain this discrepancy in
terms of how reality appears to the actor.
In other cultures, the same
discrepancy might be explained
in terms of witchcraft, or the
alignment of the stars.
explanations of behavior may
not be innate. Even
these may be cultural
With respect to self-awareness, paleontological data would suggests that it is very old indeed. Excavation of some of the earliest cave-dwellings has yielded evidence of beads and other adornments. These clearly indicate that these early human ancestors knew what they looked like -- and cared about it.
is even possible that
intersubjectivity -- the belief
that others have minds that
might differ from one's own,
that the contents of others'
minds might be interesting, and
that we could infer these
contents from their behavior --
might be a cultural invention,
like the wheel or written
Setting aside this admittedly controversial reading of ancient (and modern) literary texts, proposals for something like a UG for behavioral explanation imply that there should be cross-cultural similarity in the way that young children explain behavioral discrepancies. The development of a theory of mind (or whatever the culture prefers) would then come later, as a result of socialization and acculturation. The result would be that, among adults, there is some cultural variance, or "choice", in explanations of behavior:
This page last revised 07/25/2017.