It is widely believed that what distinguishes the social cognition of humans from that of other animals is the belief–desire psychology of four–year–old children and adults (so–called theory of mind). We argue here that this is actually the second ontogenetic step in uniquely human social cognition. The first step is one year old children's understanding of persons as intentional agents, which enables skills of cultural learning and shared intentionality. This initial step is ‘the real thing’ in the sense that it (...) enables young children to participate in cultural activities using shared, perspectival symbols with a conventional/normative/reflective dimension—for example, linguistic communication and pretend play—thus inaugurating children's understanding of things mental. Understanding beliefs and participating in collective intentionality at four years of age—enabling the comprehension of such things as money and marriage—results from several years of engagement with other persons in perspective–shifting and reflective discourse containing propositional attitude constructions. (shrink)
When do children acquire a propositional attitude folk psychology or theory of mind? The orthodox answer to this central question of developmental ToM research had long been that around age 4 children begin to apply “belief” and other propositional attitude concepts. This orthodoxy has recently come under serious attack, though, from two sides: Scoffers complain that it over-estimates children’s early competence and claim that a proper understanding of propositional attitudes emerges only much later. Boosters criticize the orthodoxy for underestimating early (...) competence and claim that even infants ascribe beliefs. In this paper, the orthodoxy is defended on empirical grounds against these two kinds of attacks. On the basis of new evidence, not only can the two attacks safely be countered, but the orthodox claim can actually be strengthened, corroborated and refined: what emerges around age 4 is an explicit, unified, flexibly conceptual capacity to ascribe propositional attitudes. This unified conceptual capacity contrasts with the less sophisticated, less unified implicit forms of tracking simpler mental states present in ontogeny long before. This refined version of the orthodoxy can thus most plausibly be spelled out in some form of 2-systems-account of theory of mind. (shrink)
Young children interpret some acts performed by adults as normatively governed, that is, as capable of being performed either rightly or wrongly. In previous experiments, children have made this interpretation when adults introduced them to novel acts with normative language (e.g. ‘this is the way it goes’), along with pedagogical cues signaling culturally important information, and with social-pragmatic marking that this action is a token of a familiar type. In the current experiment, we exposed children to novel actions with no (...) normative language, and we systematically varied pedagogical and social-pragmatic cues in an attempt to identify which of them, if either, would lead children to normative interpretations. We found that young 3-year-old children inferred normativity without any normative language and without any pedagogical cues. The only cue they used was adult socialpragmatic marking of the action as familiar, as if it were a token of a well-known type (as opposed to performing it, as if inventing it on the spot). These results suggest that – in the absence of explicit normative language – young children interpret adult actions as normatively governed based mainly on the intentionality (perhaps signaling conventionality) with which they are performed. (shrink)
Human social life is structured by social norms creating both obligations and entitlements. Recent research has found that young children enforce simple obligations against norm violators by protesting. It is not known, however, whether they understand entitlements in the sense that they will actively object to a second party attempting to interfere in something that a third party is entitled to do — what we call counter-protest. In two studies, we found that 3-year-old children understand when a person is entitled (...) to do something, and so they actively defend this person’s entitlement against unjustified interference from second parties. In some cases, they even enforce second-order entitlements, for example, in the case of ownership where an owner is entitled to entitle others to use the owner’s property. (shrink)
Current theory-of-mind research faces the challenge of reconciling two sets of seemingly incompatible findings: Whereas children come to solve explicit verbal false belief tasks from around 4years of age, recent studies with various less explicit measures such as looking time, anticipatory looking, and spontaneous behavior suggest that even infants can succeed on some FB tasks. In response to this tension, two-systems theories propose to distinguish between an early-developing system, tracking simple forms of mental states, and a later-developing system, based on (...) fully developed concepts of belief and other propositional attitudes. One prediction of such theories is that the early-developing system has signature limits concerning aspectuality. We tested this prediction in two experiments. The first experiment showed that 2- and 3-year-olds take into account a protagonist's true or false belief about the location of an object in their active helping behavior. In contrast, toddlers' helping behavior did not differentiate between true and false belief conditions when the protagonist's belief essentially involved aspectuality. Experiment 2 replicated these findings with a more stringent method designed to rule out more parsimonious explanations. Taken together, the current findings are compatible with the possibility that early theory-of-mind reasoning is subject to signature limits as predicted by the two-systems account. (shrink)
Humans are normative beings through and through. This capacity for normativity lies at the core of uniquely human forms of understanding and regulating socio-cultural group life. Plausibly, therefore, the hominin lineage evolved specialized social-cognitive, motivational, and affective abilities that helped create, transmit, preserve, and amend shared social practices. In turn, these shared normative attitudes and practices shaped subsequent human phylogeny, constituted new forms of group life, and hence structured human ontogeny, too. An essential aspect of human ontogeny is therefore its (...) reciprocal nature regarding normativity. This chapter reviews recent evidence from developmental psychology suggesting that, from early on, human children take a normative attitude toward others’ conduct in social interactions, and thus a collectivistic and impersonal perspective on norms. We discuss to what extent our closest living primate relatives lack normative attitudes and therefore live in a non-normative socio-causal world structured by individual preferences, power relationships, and regularities. (shrink)
Abstract: Focusing on early child pretend play from the perspective of developmental psychology, this article puts forward and presents evidence for two claims. First, such play constitutes an area of remarkable individual intentionality of second-order intentionality (or 'theory of mind'): in pretence with others, young children grasp the basic intentional structure of pretending as a non-serious fictional form of action. Second, early social pretend play embodies shared or collective we-intentionality. Pretending with others is one of the ontogenetically primary instances of (...) truly cooperative actions. And it is a, perhaps the, primordial form of cooperative action with rudimentary rule-governed, institutional structure: in joint pretence games, children are aware that objects collectively get assigned fictional status, 'count as' something, and that this creates a normative space of warranted moves in the game. Developmentally, pretend play might even be a cradle for institutional phenomena more generally. (shrink)
Adults’ intentionality judgments regarding an action are influenced by their moral evaluation of this action. This is clearly indicated in the so-called side-effect effect: when told about an action (e.g. implementing a business plan) with an intended primary effect (e.g. raise profits) and a foreseen side effect (e.g. harming/helping the environment), subjects tend to interpret the bringing about of the side effect more often as intentional when it is negative (harming the environment) than when it is positive (helping the environment). (...) From a cognitive point of view, it is unclear whether the side-effect effect is driven by the moral status of the side effects specifically, or rather more generally by its normative status. And from a developmental point of view, little is known about the ontogenetic origins of the effect. The present study therefore explored the cognitive foundations and the ontogenetic origins of the side-effect effect by testing 4-to 5-year-old children with scenarios in which a side effect was in accordance with/violated a norm. Crucially, the status of the norm was varied to be conventional or moral. Children rated the bringing about of side-effects as more intentional when it broke a norm than when it accorded with a norm irrespective of the type of norm. The side-effect effect is thus an early-developing, more general and pervasive phenomenon, not restricted to morally relevant side effects. (shrink)
How do human children come up to carve up and think of the world around them in its most general and abstract structure? And to which degree are these general forms of viewing the world shared by other animals, notably by non-human primates? In response to these questions of what could be called comparative metaphysics, this paper discusses new evidence from developmental and comparative research to argue for the following picture: human children and non-human primates share a basic framework of (...) natural ontology: they think about their natural surroundings in essentialist ways in terms of natural kind objects constituted by their essential properties, and in generic terms as governed by general descriptive regularities. In contrast, there is a great divide when it comes to how human children and non-human primates carve up their social environment: only human children then go on to use their essentialist and generic thinking for developing a distinctively social ontology, to conceive of their surrounding in terms of socially constituted objects governed by general prescriptive norms. (shrink)
Mental state reasoning or theory-of-mind has been the subject of a rich body of imaging research. Although such investigations routinely tap a common set of regions, the precise function of each area remains a contentious matter. With the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we sought to determine which areas are involved when processing mental state or intentional metarepresentations by focusing on the relational aspect of such representations. Using non-intentional relational representations such as spatial relations between persons and between (...) objects as a contrast, the results ascertained the involvement of the precuneus, the temporal poles, and the medial prefrontal cortex in the processing of intentional representations. In contrast, the anterior superior temporal sulcus and the left temporo-parietal junction were implicated when processing representations that refer to the presence of persons in relational contexts in general. The right temporo-parietal junction, however, was specifically activated for persons entering spatial relations. The level of representational complexity, a previously unexplored factor, was also found to modulate the neural response in some brain regions, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and the right temporo-parietal junction. These findings highlight the need to take into account the critical roles played by an extensive network of neural regions during mental state reasoning. (shrink)
The litmus test for the development of a metarepresentational Theory of Mind is the false belief task in which children have to represent how another agent misrepresents the world. Children typically start mastering this task around age four. Recently, however, a puzzling finding has emerged: Once children master the FB task, they begin to fail true belief control tasks. Pragmatic accounts assume that the TB task is pragmatically confusing because it poses a trivial academic test question about a rational agent’s (...) perspective; and we do not normally engage in such discourse about subjective mental perspectives unless there is at least the possibility of error or deviance. The lack of such an obvious possibility in the TB task implicates that there might be some hidden perspective difference and thus makes the task confusing. In the present study, we test the pragmatic account by administering to 3- to 6-year-olds TB and FB tasks and structurally analogous true and false sign tasks. The belief and sign tasks are matched in terms of representational and metarepresentational complexity; the crucial difference is that TS tasks do not implicate an alternative non-mental perspective and should thus be less pragmatically confusing than TB tasks. The results show parallel and correlated development in FB and FS tasks, replicate the puzzling performance pattern in TB tasks, but show no trace of this in TS tasks. Taken together, these results speak in favor of the pragmatic performance account. (shrink)
Cimpian & Salomon present promising steps towards understanding the cognitive underpinnings of adult essentialism. However, their approach is less convincing regarding ontogenetic and evolutionary aspects. In contrast to C&S's claim, the so-called inherence heuristic, though perhaps vital in adult reasoning, seems an implausible candidate for the developmental and evolutionary foundations of psychological essentialism. A more plausible candidate is kind-based object individuation that already embodies essentialist modes of thinking and that is present in infants and nonhuman primates.
Lingualism claims there is no thought without language. At the other end of the theoretical spectrum, strong nativist 'Language of Thought' theories hold that public language is inessential to private thought. For an adequate empirical description of the ontogeny of thought and language, however, we need an intermediate position recognizing the dialectical interplay between pre-linguistic thought, language acquisition and the development of full-fledged linguistic reason. In this article recent findings from developmental and comparative psychology are reviewed that highlight the need (...) for such a dialectical picture. These findings concern basic cognitive capacities common to pre-linguistic infants and many non-linguistic animals, specific social-cognitive abilities in human infants that enable language acquisition, and the influence of language on the subsequent cognitive development. (shrink)
Neueste Ergebnisse vergleichender Kognitionsforschung werden im Hinblick auf ihre Relevanz für einzigartig menschliches kulturelles Lernern diskutiert. Während menschliche Kleinkinder und andere Primaten ähnliche Fähigkeiten individueller Intentionalität entwickeln, liegt der Kern spezifisch menschlicher Kognition in kollektiver Intentionalität, so eine zentrale These. Das Verhältnis von vorsprachlicher Kognition und Sprache wird thematisiert unter Rückgriff auf verschiedene Positionen der jüngsten analytischen Philosophie.
The natural history of our moral stance told here in this commentary reveals the close nexus of morality and basic social-cognitive capacities. Big mysteries about morality thus transform into smaller and more manageable ones. Here, I raise questions regarding the conceptual, ontogenetic, and evolutionary relations of the moral stance to the intentional and group stances and to shared intentionality.