To What Extent Is Theory of Mind Innate?

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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To what extent is Theory of Mind innate? Critically discuss with reference to genetic, social and cultural evidence.
Theory of mind refers to an individual’s ability to understand the mental states of others (Baron-Cohen, 1989b). According to Buttelmann et al. (2008) over the years; psychological practice has seen an increase in research, debating whether theory of mind is innate. This apparent increase stems from controversial standard false-belief tasks and its influence on a person’s ability to have an operative theory of mind (Chandler, Fritz & Hala 1989). The connotations of these standard false-belief tasks act as an indicator for specific age boundaries, in which children are meant to start attributing mental states to others, through their understanding of false belief (Perner and Ruffman, 2005; Fodor, 1992; Mitchell,1996). The implications of these standard false-belief tasks will steer this discussion to focus on the extent at which theory of mind can be considered as innate with reference to genetic, social and cultural evidence.

According to Whiten, (1993 pg. 3) “a theory of mind remains one of the quintessential abilities that makes us human” .Yet prior to Baron-Cohen’s (1989a) study, the traditional view held by most child developmental psychologists, (Piaget, 1983) was based on the idea that, any understanding of what goes on in another person’s mind has to be a calculated and difficult thing (Appleton and Reddy, 1996). Hence, in order to work out this complicated concept, an individual would need a sophisticated set of intellectual skills which is not found in infancy and develops around the ages of 3-4years (Mitchell, 1996). However as Reddy (2007; p.122) states, “Babies get self-conscious earlier than expected...they experience positive embarrassment...positive shyness”. The fact that they can recognise themselves in the mirror…...

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