Author Topic: Theory of Mind  (Read 5166 times)

Offline Corybobory

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Theory of Mind
« on: December 17, 2013, 04:52:58 PM »
I've been reading a lot lately about social understanding and theory of mind - theory of mind is commonly defined as the ability to think about thoughts, and is probably uniquely human.  It's called 'theory' of mind, because it suggests an individual has no access to mental states of another and therefore must 'theorize' what they are.

I've also been reading how it's linked closely to language ability, and standardized test scores in one even 'predict' the other (Astington and Jenkins 1999).

Does anyone have any thoughts on theory of mind as a cognitive ability?  I've heard criticisms of it, mostly its 'dualistic' nature in assuming an inaccessable mind, and that individuals are actually 'theorizing' about others' mental states.

Another bit to think about - is anyone convinced other species show signs of thinking about thoughts? I can't say that I am yet, as there's always alternative explanations for certain behaviour, and no other species can pass a false belief test.
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2013, 05:01:19 PM »
I don't have much direct evidence or many details to add, but I'm strongly of the opinion that everything is gradient-- animals do less than humans do, but they do, in many ways, the same things.

One major problem here is actually defining "awareness", "intelligence", "consciousness", and "theory of mind". If you define them circularly (only humans have those because they're uniquely human properties) it's not a very interesting point, and otherwise I think it's very challenging to come up with a reasonable, widely agreeable definition!

But questions like this certainly interest me, even if I don't know how to answer them.
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Offline Corybobory

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2013, 04:19:14 AM »
It certainly is interesting, especially reading the clever ways to test these cognitive abilities :)

I don't think theory of mind falls into that circular definition of why it's uniquely human (like language does - though I don't think this is a negative thing), and does leave a door open for it being available to other species.  Finding non-linguistic tests however to study it is difficult!

The standard way to see if someone has an awareness that others have 'minds' is called the false-belief test - for example, in an 'appearance-reality' test, a child will be shown a box of Smarties, and be asked what they think is inside.  The child will say "Smarties!"  However, the box will be opened and be shown to have something different inside, for example coloured pencils.  Then the child is asked what another person who hasn't been present will say when they are asked what is in the box.

Three year olds will invariably say that the other person will say 'coloured pencils'.  But around the age of 4, children will understand that another mind might hold false information, and they will say that the other person will guess Smarties, even though they are aware that it's just coloured pencils in the box.

False-belief and theory of mind aren't the same thing however, and a child might need more than just theory of mind to pass this test.  It's still the standard way to test if a child has theory of mind, as it's hard to fake and pass the test.
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Offline lx

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2013, 10:20:12 AM »
Quote
Three year olds will invariably say that the other person will say 'coloured pencils'.  But around the age of 4, children will understand that another mind might hold false information, and they will say that the other person will guess Smarties, even though they are aware that it's just coloured pencils in the box.

This sounds like the perspective test that has been used to test the psychological capacity of infants. Put a child in a room, have the child state what is in front of it from two non-overlapping and independent perspectives (resulting in different objects being the correct answer) and then putting a doll that would have another perspective in the child's view and asking what the doll would see. I can't remember the details because it was many years ago I did this in a Psychology module but it addressed the issue of the concept of the self and how the mind develops an abstraction to consider another's beliefs.

But I must confess I do not recognise having seen a lot about a specific "Theory of Mind".
Could you give me the rundown in some for-dummies bullet points?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2013, 11:14:27 AM »
lx, "theory of mind" basically refers to the idea that we are able to associate having a mind/will with other individuals. For example, I am likely to assume that you will reply to my post here, in contrast to say, a rock, or the "reply button" icon on the page.
Infants first see their mother as a useful part of the environment. It takes a while for them to realize 1) that their mother is a whole, a separate entity (both from themselves and from the rest of the world), and 2) that their mother has her own desires and feelings.



As you said, Cory, the tests are convincing but not exhaustive, and human-centric. If we assume some lesser version operating in, say, dogs, we'd need a test that would be sensitive to it. The fact that they don't, for example, have an ability to guess what kind of pizza I will order tomorrow doesn't mean they don't have some version of "theory of mind". So here the problem is false negatives, not false positives.

I know too little about animal behavior/psychology to say anything with certainty, but I get the feeling that sometimes pets have theory of mind. We know when they don't (or at least when they don't care). Cats, while often friendly, don't seem to see us as more than toys or danger, while dogs become a little more attached and seem to try to communicate-- they may recognize that someone is sick and try to help them feel better, they may even seem to "argue" about wanting to go on a walk, etc. This may just be an illusion, but I'm not ready to rule out the possibility.

This was posted a while ago:
http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/researcher-decodes-praire-dog-language-discovers-theyve-been-calling-people-fat.html
There's no evidence in there that they believe humans have minds, but the not-yet-decoded parts of their communication (the "social calls") might hint that they do believe each other to have minds. As Dr. Slobodchikoff emphasizes, we need to first decode their communication to have any idea what's going on-- as much as they don't understand human communication, we may not understand them. Once we do, perhaps we'll find they've been saying, thinking and knowing a lot more than we thought before. (I've checked out a couple of his books from the library to look over when I have more time over the break.)
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Offline lx

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2013, 12:19:26 PM »
So, let's take the example setting of animals seeing their own reflections.
Would you say that an animal, let's say a dolphin, understanding that it is seeing its own reflection, is that also evidence of the theory of mind? Although as you categorised it, it involved the notion of establishing other members of the species as being their own selves and independent of the creature viewing the other ones, actively living in the wild and interacting with other animals, to then see something it can identify as itself; is that not deducible evidence that there is at least a basic function of differentiation going on?

I know you said the animal information isn't your strongpoint, but I'm just throwing the thought out there because it's not mine either. It is an interesting topic.

Cory, how did you mean that this sort of thinking connected to language? I'm interested to hear about that aspect.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2013, 12:32:51 PM »
I'd say at least that recognizing oneself in a mirror is a precursor to "theory of mind", somewhere on the gradient scale from non-sentience to human. It might even count (but that's just definitional, right?).

In order to recognize yourself in a mirror (or anyone else for that matter, as in a painting, video, etc.), you must have a stored representation of that individual/entity. Then you must recognize that the individual can exist beyond just immediate interaction ("this is the hand that is feeding me" => "this hand is the one that sometimes feeds me").

That does not necessarily require 'theory of mind', in that you don't need to believe the individual in the mirror/image is necessarily intelligent. So a duck might recognize itself in a mirror (I have no idea!) but not associate any "mind" with the reflection or itself.

(For it to be a test for theory of mind, it would need to have results like "oh, wow, that guy is stuck in the mirror and wants to get out... how can I help him?"-- associating a mental state with the reflection. Actually, that leads to some very complicated thoughts that I'm not sure I've had myself: "My reflection must be wondering about what I'm thinking at the moment too, given that it is a reflection of me and I'm wondering about the mind of the reflection." This reminds me of a short film I made a long time ago about a reflection with a 'mind of its own' so to speak.)

But this brings up a really interesting youtube video I came across the other day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYutSUqVNFM
If you haven't already seen The Grammar of Happiness, you should check that out anyway. But this isn't really related to that.
Watch the first bit until you get what's going on. But then you can skip to about 3:20. Read the description too.

That's definitive evidence that animals do recognize other animals in videos. In fact, the video shows expectations of the behavior of others as well, which also seems like another precursor of theory of mind.

What do you think?
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Offline freknu

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2013, 01:02:05 AM »
https://youtube.com/watch?v=8Biv_8xjj8E

This is a very interesting documentary, especially the part about "perspective". I think it kind of parallells what lx was talking about.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2013, 01:28:24 AM »
I've bookmarked that. I'll have to check it out later. I don't have an hour at the moment but it looks both interesting and entertaining (sort of in opposite ways-- interesting in a serious way, entertaining in a ridiculous way).
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Offline Corybobory

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2013, 04:54:02 AM »
Oooh, I'll have to look at that later too, thanks for the link!

The mirror recognition tests are interesting - there are some species that if you alter their appearance while they are asleep and unknowing, when they wake up they will look in the mirror for a long time, touch and themself and the altered area curiously as if they know it is them they are looking at.  Chimpanzees seem to think that at first it is another chimp, but then get very curious - I've seen video of Kanzi the bonobo with a flashlight and a handheld mirror inspecting as far as they can down their throat! :)

It's hard to know what to make of it though - is it really self awareness?  I was spending some time with a little 2 year old the other week, and she was on my lap and we were playing with my phone.  The picture setting was on, so we could see ourselves on the screen.  I was urging her to make funny faces with me to take pictures - like stick out our tongue, etc - and she found it entrancing and funny, and after a bit of encouraging made the faces - but I'm not sure she connected that what we were watching was us in real-time.

For example, after we took a few photos, she then requested "Take picture of [her name] in the park!"

And I laughed and said I can't, cause she's not in the park.  Puzzled, she than asked, "Take picture of [her name] in the garden!"

So I'm not quite sure she totally got it... though I'm also not sure she'd pass the mirror recognition test either.  Should have done some experiments....


As for the connection between this ability to think about thoughts and its connection to language, this is where I get really interested:

-Language and theory of mind seem to bootstrap each others' development in children.  For example, language is necessary to appreciate certain mental states of others.  Traits such as gaze following and joint attention seem to be important for both language learning and theory of mind development.

-In Astington and Jenkins (1999), they studied 60 children at three different points over 7 months, to assess their theory of mind ability and language ability.  They found earlier language ablility predicted later language test performance. They also divided the contributions towards semantic and syntactic ability and found it was specifically syntactic ability that predicted the theory of mind score.

Here's a .pdf document that summarizes the research well and gives a good literature review on the subject of theory of mind and language!
http://cls.psu.edu/pubs/pubs/Miller_06_offprint.pdf
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Offline freknu

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2013, 05:01:05 AM »
At least great apes, cetaceans, elephants, and ravens and magpies (or perhaps the Corvus genus in general), seem to possess self-awareness and are able to recognise themself in the mirror. I don't know how widely it has been studied, but those are the one's that I'm aware of.

Many scientists have even urged for the personhood of cetaceans in order to protect them and their habitation.

Offline lx

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2013, 06:06:08 AM »
I might be going on a bit off on a bit of a tangent here but has anyone else seen the videos of the monkeys in the cage when they are treated unfairly? I think it's from a TED talk. Capuchin monkeys are given cucumbers and if they can both see they both get cucumbers for carrying out a simple task, they are happy. As soon as one of them starts to get grapes (i.e. something nicer) the other one goes berserk in the cage. I think that notion of inequality and moreover rejection of the inequality is fascinating and a definite insight into the conceptual and mental states of how these creatures view their environments and social settings.

Here is the link if anyone is interested. It's only 02:38 - nothing feature-length.

Offline Corybobory

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2013, 09:33:17 AM »
Wow, that's interesting - it means they must have concepts of greater and lesser amounts I assume, or of value?

Here is a question for everyone on this topic - why would an animal looking at themself and touching a mark made on their head while they were asleep mean that they had self awareness?  Could it be explained in another way?
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Offline dublin

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2014, 10:06:39 AM »
Quote
Here is a question for everyone on this topic - why would an animal looking at themself and touching a mark made on their head while they were asleep mean that they had self awareness?  Could it be explained in another way?

plain curiosity? you need to add this test to check the result of the first:

do the first test.
then remove the mirror and bring another monkey from the same group which also had mark made without either monkeys being aware of it being done.
what does the first monkey do?
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Theory of Mind
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2014, 12:23:18 PM »
That's really true. If they see the other monkey with a new mark, perhaps they would touch their own head as a sort of recognition of where the mark is. That's unlikely, so it probably does suggest self-awareness*, but that test is needed to confirm.

(*I'm not sure it's really "theory of mind", but it is some kind of self-awareness.)
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