Theory of Mind: A Review of Recent Empirical Results and Main Theoretical Explanations



theory of mind, social cognition, perspective taking


Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states to others. Until around 20 years ago most evidence pointed to Theory of Mind being a cognitively demanding skill that likely develops at around 4 years of age. However, there is a growing body of literature based on experiments that do not rely on verbal measures that suggests that Theory of Mind-like abilities may occur outside of cognitive control and in infants as young as 9 months. This review discusses the three main types of account that have been proposed as explanations of these new results. Furthermore, it highlights the evidence supporting and contrasting each type of account. There is currently no single account that provides an uncontested explanation of all current data, however, one of the reasons for this is that there is a degree of ambiguity in the predictions and interpretations of each of the accounts making it challenging for any set of experiments to refute an account. Consequently, the future of research on Theory of Mind appears to rely on these accounts producing less ambiguous predictions that cannot be insulated from refutation.