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Cognitive Science 12: A Case-Study- Exploring Mindreading

08/10/2013

Mindreading, or theory of mind, or agenticity or whatever you want to call it is the focus of this chapter. It is looked at as a devoted cognitive system, as a case study for how cognitive science can analyze a specific cognitive ability.

Pretend play and metarepresentation

Psychologist Alan Leslie thought that children’s pretend play could be a window to understanding mindreading. Pretend play is an example of metarepresentation. The way the object really is counts as the representation, but children can represent secondary representations of the object (the banana is also a phone). Leslie’s idea was that mindreading is a metarepresentation of others’ minds.

Metarepresentation, autism, and theory of mind

Autistic children help support Leslie’s views. They perform extremely poorly on the false belief task, while performing at or above the average on general intelligence tests. They seem unable to represent the false beliefs of others.

Understanding false belief

There seems to be a time lag between pretend play and actually succeeding in the false belief task. That suggests that there’s something more than metarepresentation going on in mindreading. Leslie thinks that kids automatically represent true beliefs, but need to develop further mental faculties to inhibit this automatic reaction.

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