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Theory of Mind

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Beginning about fifteen years ago There's one property of human intelligence that scientists got very interested in and it's called having a Theory of Mind and the best way to describe it is to describe a classic experiment with human children So imagine you're sitting around and you're telling stories with your younger sister and you tell them a story say "well here's Sally" "and Sally has a ball that she really likes" "and she's going to put it in the basket" "which is right there in front of her" "and she hides the ball in the basket" "and here's Anne, Sally's friend" "and they're playing together" and Sally then says "I've got to go to the bathroom" "So I'm going to leave the room" An when she leaves the room, Anne takes the ball out of the basket and puts it in a box a green box that she's got next to her Now Sally come back into the room and she wants to play with the ball And supposing you ask your sister "Where is Sally going to look for the ball?" If your sister is three years old she'll say "in the box" because she knows that's where the ball is and a three-year-old has knowledge, of course but can't imagine that other people have knowledge that's different from their own so if she knows the ball's in the box, everybody knows the ball's in the box. and that's because a three-year-old doesn't do what scientists call 'attributing mental states' to other people... she doesn't think that other people have thoughts desires, beliefs, knowledge... so she answers the question incorrectly as children get older, it happens pretty quickly Four, five or so they go through the same test, you ask them the same question and they beging to say, "well Sally's going to look for the ball in the basket" because that's where she thinks it is and a five or six-year-old will say,"she'll look for the ball in the basket "because she thinks, incorrectly, that the ball's still in the basket" "but I know it's been moved into the box". so by six children have the ability to attribute mental states to others they have what we call a theory of Mind. and we call it a Theory because there is nothing about the other person that shows that they're thinking thoughts are hidden, we don't see them the only way we can imagine that thoughts are there and that they cause behaviour is if we have a theory about the way the world works people have thoughts, and the thoughts cause what they do and of course in humans, theory of mind just pervades all of our life we are forever making a distinction between what people do and what they think we do I mean think about your relationships with other people Yeah, she was nice to me yesterday, but does she really like me? or I think that he doesn't know that you really do like him... these things can get incredibly baroque where you're attributing theory of mind back and forth to three other people and it's what we do in plays, it's what we do in our daily life all the time but it's not something we're borne with you've got to learn it!

Video Details

Duration: 3 minutes and 36 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Richard Dawkins Foundation TV
Views: 671
Posted by: jotamac on May 28, 2010

Video showing how children develop a theory of mind and attribute mental states at a certain age, and don't have one until then.

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