What is “theory of mind”? Concepts, cognitive processes and individual differences

  title={What is “theory of mind”? Concepts, cognitive processes and individual differences},
  author={Ian A. Apperly},
  journal={Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology},
  pages={825 - 839}
  • I. Apperly
  • Published 15 March 2012
  • Psychology
  • Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Research on “theory of mind” has traditionally focused on a narrow participant group (preschool children) using a narrow range of experimental tasks (most notably, false-belief tasks). Recent work has greatly expanded the age range of human participants tested to include human infants, older children, and adults, has devised new tasks, and has adopted methods from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. However, theoretical work has not kept pace with these changes, with the result that studies… 

What Do Theory-of-Mind Tasks Actually Measure? Theory and Practice

  • F. QuesqueY. Rossetti
  • Psychology
    Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science
  • 2020
It is argued that not only the vocabulary but also most of the classic measures for theory of mind lack specificity and it is proposed that more attention should be paid to methods used in this field of social cognition to improve the understanding of underlying concepts.

A Social Perspective on Theory of Mind

This chapter provides a detailed review of research on individual differences in theory of mind and is organized into four major sections. In the first section, we adopt a historical approach in

Analogical Comparison Promotes Theory-of-Mind Development

It is proposed that analogical comparison is a key mechanism in the development of ToM, and it is found that providing support for comparing true- and false-belief scenarios led to increased performance on false-Belief tests.

The future of social cognition: paradigms, concepts and experiments

This special issue addresses questions in an attempt to discover what the future holds for interdisciplinary research in social cognition.

Do we know what they are thinking? Theory of Mind and affect in the classroom

Research on Theory of Mind explores how we develop the capacity to understand that others have thoughts and feelings that differ from our own and how we are compelled to “read” them. However, a

Does interference between self and other perspectives in theory of mind tasks reflect a common underlying process? Evidence from individual differences in theory of mind and inhibitory control

It is suggested that self–other differences are part of the nature of ToM tasks, but self-other interference is not a unitary construct, and these effects may not be a major limiting step for adults’ performance on typical ToM task.

Is Mindreading a Universal or Culture-Specific Construct?

The extent to which mindreading capability is culture-dependent, and to determine if differences between cultures impose systematic differences in the trajectory of mindreading development, is discussed.

Theory of mind: a new perspective on the puzzle of belief ascription

It is argued that infants and young children, when confronted with the two forms of false belief tasks do not face the same problem and behind the two testing situations there are different ways to understand theory of mind.



Meta-analysis of theory-of-mind development: the truth about false belief.

A meta-analysis found that when organized into a systematic set of factors that vary across studies, false-belief results cluster systematically with the exception of only a few outliers, and is consistent with theoretical accounts that propose that understanding of belief, and, relatedly, understanding of mind, exhibit genuine conceptual change in the preschool years.

Scaling of theory-of-mind tasks.

The sequence of understandings evident in preschoolers' developing theory of mind is addressed, where for most children if they passed a later item they passed all earlier items as well, as confirmed by Guttman and Rasch measurement model analyses.

Studies of adults can inform accounts of theory of mind development.

While studies of children report that ToM correlates with both language and executive function, findings from adults suggest that these relationships should be interpreted in importantly different ways.

Direct and indirect measures of Level-2 perspective-taking in children and adults.

There was no evidence of automatic processing of Level-2 perspectives on the indirect measure, which is consistent with the view that theory of mind abilities assessed by indirect measures are subject to signature limits.

The Social Sense: Susceptibility to Others’ Beliefs in Human Infants and Adults

It is shown that adults and 7-month-olds automatically encode others” beliefs, and that, surprisingly, others’ beliefs have similar effects as the participants’ own beliefs.

Limits on theory of mind use in adults

Individual differences in inhibitory control and children's theory of mind.

It is suggested that IC may be a crucial enabling factor for ToM development, possibly affecting both the emergence and expression of mental state knowledge.

Reading minds versus following rules: Dissociating theory of mind and executive control in the brain

FMRI in healthy adults found that non-overlapping brain regions were implicated selectively in response selection and belief attribution, and that belief attribution tasks recruit brain regions associated with response selection as much as well-matched control tasks, suggesting that both domain-general and domain-specific cognitive resources are involved in adult ToM.

“I Know, you Know”: Epistemic Egocentrism in Children and Adults

This article reviews the evidence and theory pertaining to a form of perspective-taking failure—a difficulty in setting aside the privileged information that one knows to be unavailable to another