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Mind, child’s theory of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W048-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Knowledge of other minds poses a variety of unusual problems due to the peculiarly private nature of mental states. Some current views, impressed by the contrast between the apparently direct access we have to our own mental states and the inaccessibility of others’ mental states, argue that we understand the mental states of others by imagining that they are our own by ‘simulation’. Other current views propose that we infer both our own mental states and the mental states of others by employing a set of conjectures arrived at through general inductive reasoning over experience: a ‘folk psychology’ or ‘theory of mind’.

Experimental studies, by contrast, suggest that we possess an ‘instinct’ for comprehending the informational mental states of other minds. Children develop mental state concepts uniformly and rapidly in the preschool period when general reasoning powers are limited. For example, children can reason effectively about other people’s beliefs before they can reliably calculate that 2 plus 2 equals 4. In the empirical study of the ‘theory of mind’ instinct there have been three major discoveries so far: first, that normally developing 2-year-olds are able to recognize the informational state of pretending; second, that normally developing children can, by the age of 4 years, solve a variety of false belief problems; and lastly, that this instinct is specifically impaired in children with the neurodevelopmental disorder known as ‘autism’.

Citing this article:
Leslie, Alan M.. Mind, child’s theory of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W048-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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