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Theory of Mind in Reality and Imagination

Dr. Deena Weisberg

Thursday, September 24, 2009, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Center for Cognitive Science Department

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Human beings have a remarkable ability to understand the inner life of thoughts and feelings, both our own and those of other people. This ability, known as "theory of mind,"  has its roots early in development and shapes children's interactions with the world in many ways. In this talk, I explore two aspects of theory of mind reasoning and trace their influences on social and cognitive development. First, although preschool children are able to understand the goals that guide others' actions, what happens when these actions violate moral rules or social norms? I ask whether children can make mature judgments about the moral status of others' actions and, if so, what factors they take into account in these judgments. Second, a crucial component of theory of mind reasoning is the ability to decouple, or to get outside one's egocentric perspective. This ability is necessary for representing the content of others' minds, but it is also necessary for imaginative endeavors that take place in possible worlds, including playing pretend games, understanding fictional stories, and reasoning counterfactually. My studies explore the nature of these imaginative processes and the roles that they play in development.

Dr. Deena Weisberg