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Specialized mechanisms for theory of mind: Are mental representations special because they are mental or because they are representations? (talk recording available)
Dr. Adam Scott Cohen
Tuesday, December 03, 2013, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
University of Western Ontario, Department of Psychology, The Brain and Mind Institute, CANADA
Abstract: Theory of mind, the ability to explain and predict behavior in terms of mental states, presents a puzzle for developmental cognitive science: mental state reasoning is arguably one of the most sophisticated and abstract abilities humans possess, yet children, without any formal instruction, acquire it early and deploy it effortlessly. To solve this puzzle, some researchers have emphasized the role of specialized mechanisms in learning and reasoning about mental states. Although theories positing domain-specific mechanisms have enjoyed explanatory and predictive success, a number of recent findings challenge this approach and support a competing theory which proposes that a less specialized metarepresentational capacity underpins theory of mind. Drawing on multiple experimental methods, I will present evidence addressing these recent challenges to domain-specific accounts and introduce a specialization hypothesis not previously considered in the theory of mind literature. I will conclude by considering the implications of these findings for the evolution and development of theory of mind.