Over the last quarter century, the dominant tendency in comparative cognitive psychology has been to emphasize the similarities between human and nonhuman minds and to downplay the differences as (Darwin 1871). In the present target article, we argue that Darwin was mistaken: the profound biological continuity between human and nonhuman animals masks an equally profound discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. To wit, there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate (...) the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (PSS) (Newell 1980). We show that this symbolic-relational discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain. We propose a representational-level specification as to where human and nonhuman animals' abilities to approximate a PSS are similar and where they differ. We conclude by suggesting that recent symbolic-connectionist models of cognition shed new light on the mechanisms that underlie the gap between human and nonhuman minds. (shrink)
The question of whether chimpanzees, like humans, reason about unobservable mental states remains highly controversial. On one account, chimpanzees are seen as possessing a psychological system for social cognition that represents and reasons about behaviors alone. A competing account allows that the chimpanzee's social cognition system additionally construes the behaviors it represents in terms of mental states. Because the range of behaviors that each of the two systems can generate is not currently known, and because the latter system depends upon (...) the former, determining the presence of this latter system in chimpanzees is a far more difficult task than has been assumed. We call for recognition of this problem, and a shift from experimental paradigms that cannot resolve this question, to ones that might allow researchers to intelligently determine when it is necessary to postulate the presence of a system which reasons about both behavior and mental states. (shrink)
We argue against theory-of-mind interpretation of recent false-belief experiments with young infants and explore two other interpretations: enactive and behavioral abstraction approaches. We then discuss the differences between these alternatives.
We provide an account of chimpanzee-specific agency within the context of philosophy of action. We do so by showing that chimpanzees are capable of what we call reason-directed action, even though they may be incapable of more full-blown action, which we call reason-considered action. Although chimpanzee agency does not possess all the features of typical adult human agency, chimpanzee agency is evolutionarily responsive to their environment and overlaps considerably with our own. As such, it is an evolved set of capacities (...) for goal-directed behavior, which solves problems that chimpanzees naturally encounter. Thus, it ought not be understood as a deficient instance of human agency. (shrink)
We explored the frequency with which typical adults make Theory of Mind attributions, and under what circumstances these attributions occur. We used an experience sampling method to query 30 typical adults about their everyday thoughts. Participants carried a Personal Data Assistant that prompted them to categorize their thoughts as Action, Mental State, or Miscellaneous at approximately 30 pseudo-random times during a continuous 10-h period. Additionally, participants noted the direction of their thought and degree of socializing at the time of inquiry. (...) We were interested in the relative frequency of ToM and how prominent they were in immediate social exchanges. Analyses of multiple choice answers suggest that typical adults: spend more time thinking about actions than mental states and miscellaneous things, exhibit a higher degree of own- versus other-directed thought when alone, and make mental state attributions more frequently when not interacting than while interacting with others . A significant 3-way interaction between thought type, direction of thought, and socializing emerged because action but not mental state thoughts about others occurred more frequently when participants were interacting with people versus when alone; whereas there was an increase in the frequency of both action and mental state attributions about the self when participants were alone as opposed to socializing. A secondary analysis of coded free text responses supports findings 1–3. The results of this study help to create a more naturalistic picture of ToM use in everyday life and the method shows promise for future study of typical and atypical thought processes. (shrink)
Tomasello et al. argue that the “small difference that made a big difference” in the evolution of the human mind was the disposition to share intentions. Chimpanzees are said to understand certain mental states (like intentions), but not share them. We argue that an alternative model is better supported by the data: the capacity to represent mental states (and other unobservable phenomena) is a human specialization that co-evolved with natural language.
Joint attention (JA) is hypothesized to have a close relationship with developing theory of mind (ToM) capabilities. We tested the co-occurrence of ToM and JA in social interactions between adults with no reported history of psychiatric illness or neurodevelopmental disorders. Participants engaged in an experimental task that encouraged nonverbal communication, including JA, and also ToM activity. We adapted an in-lab variant of experience sampling methods (Bryant, Coffey, Povinelli, & Pruett, 2013) to measure ToM during JA based on participants’ subjective reports (...) of their thoughts while performing the task. This experiment successfully elicited instances of JA in 17/20 dyads. We compared participants’ thought contents during episodes of JA and non-JA. Our results suggest that, in adults, JA and ToM may occur independently. (shrink)
This chapter begins with a brief review of the theory of parent-offspring conflict and considers the role of this conflict in the cognitive development of human infants. It then discusses the evolution of theory of mind — which is taken to have its origins in human evolution — and considers how this human cognitive specialization might have interacted with existing parent-offspring dynamics. How the epigenetic systems of infants might have responded is shown by elaborating upon existing cognitive and behavioural systems, (...) or by canalizing later developing ones earlier into development, in order to recruit higher degrees of parental investment. The merits of this framework is assessed in the context of the development of behaviours considered by some researchers to be indicative of a certain degree of social understanding, namely, gaze-following, pointing, social smiling, and neonatal imitation. The chapter concludes by showing how this proposal makes several longstanding theoretical and methodological difficulties for the field of cognitive development even more vexing. (shrink)
We are big fans of propositions. But we are not big fans of the proposed by Mitchell et al. The authors ignore the critical role played by implicit, non-inferential processes in biological cognition, overestimate the work that propositions alone can do, and gloss over substantial differences in how different kinds of animals and different kinds of cognitive processes approximate propositional representations.
In our target article, we argued that there is a profound functional discontinuity between the cognitive abilities of modern humans and those of all other extant species. Unsurprisingly, our hypothesis elicited a wide range of responses from commentators. After responding to the commentaries, we conclude that our hypothesis lies closer to Darwin's views on the matter than to those of many of our contemporaries.
We are in vehement agreement with most of Vaesen's key claims. But Vaesen fails to consider or rebut the possibility that there are deep causal dependencies among the various cognitive traits he identifies as uniquely human. We argue that is one such linchpin trait in the evolution of human tool use, social intelligence, language, and culture.
In our opinion, the discontinuity between extant human and nonhuman minds is much broader and deeper than most researchers admit. We are happy to report that Evans & Levinson's (E&L's) target article strongly corroborates our unpopular hypothesis, and that the comparative evidence, in turn, bolsters E&L's provocative argument. Both a Universal Grammar and the between human and nonhuman minds turn out to be modern myths.