Do humans have two systems to track beliefs and belief-like states?

Psychological Review 116 (4):953-970 (2009)
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Abstract

The lack of consensus on how to characterize humans’ capacity for belief reasoning has been brought into sharp focus by recent research. Children fail critical tests of belief reasoning before 3 to 4 years (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001; Wimmer & Perner, 1983), yet infants apparently pass false belief tasks at 13 or 15 months (Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005; Surian, Caldi, & Sperber, 2007). Non-human animals also fail critical tests of belief reasoning but can show very complex social behaviour (e.g., Call & Tomasello, 2005). Fluent social interaction in adult humans implies efficient processing of beliefs, yet direct tests suggest that belief reasoning is cognitively demanding, even for adults (e.g., Apperly, Samson & Humphreys, 2005). We interpret these findings by drawing an analogy with the domain of number cognition, where similarly contrasting results have been observed. We propose that the success of infants and non-human animals on some belief reasoning tasks may be best explained by a cognitively efficient but inflexible capacity for tracking belief-like states. In humans this capacity persists in parallel with later-developing, more flexible but more cognitively demanding theory of mind abilities.

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