The Status of Language in the Development of a Theory of Mind

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The Status of Language in the Development of a Theory of Mind

The study of the development of 'theory of mind' skills in children became popular when the false-belief task was invented in the 1980's, providing cognitive scientists with the focus of a clear experimental paradigm. This tested the ability of the young child to attribute false beliefs to others in order to explain their actions. Researchers then began to investigate the developmental stages through which children acquire these theory of mind abilities.

This essay will examine the nature of this acquisition process, studying two opposing views of theory of mind development in the young child; whether it can be explained by the
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The chocolate is moved to a different location, and the child is then asked where Maxi will look for the chocolate when he returns. The child succeeds this task if he understands that Maxi believes that the chocolate is where he left it, thereby attributing a false belief to Maxi; the child is able to represent not just the state of the world, but also Maxi's representation of the world.

This leads us to ask the obvious developmental question of how this concept of belief and therefore the theory of mind, is acquired. The suggestion that it is learnt is dubious, because of the particularly abstract nature of mental states; children are eventually able to make predictions about mental states that they cannot hear, feel or see. The alternative is to propose that the capacity to acquire a theory of mind has an innate basis.

The Development of Theory of Mind

The Modularist Approach

The modularist approach is closely linked to the claim that the theory of mind is innate; most cognitive structures, such as that which controls the acquisition of natural language are innate, and innateness is generally believed to be one of the chief characteristics of modular systems. This view, held by those such as Baron-Cohen [2] and Leslie [3] proposes

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