When is mindreading accurate? A commentary on Shannon Spaulding’s How We Understand Others: Philosophy and Social Cognition [Book Review]

Philosophical Psychology 33 (6):868-882 (2020)
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In How We Understand Others: Philosophy and Social Cognition, Shannon Spaulding develops a novel account of social cognition with pessimistic implications for mindreading accuracy: according to Spaulding, mistakes in mentalizing are much more common than traditional theories of mindreading commonly assume. In this commentary, I push against Spaulding’s pessimism from two directions. First, I argue that a number of the heuristic mindreading strategies that Spaulding views as especially error prone might be quite reliable in practice. Second, I argue that current methods for measuring mindreading performance are not well-suited for the task of determining whether our mental-state attributions are generally accurate. I conclude that any claims about the accuracy or inaccuracy of mindreading are currently unjustified.

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Evan Westra
Purdue University