Support for the importance of social interaction in the development of theory of mind understanding has been provided by family research (e.g., Astington & Jenkins, 1995; Brown, Donelan-McCall, & Dunn, 1996; Furrow, Moore, Davidge, & Chiasson, 1992; Moore, Gilbert, & Sapp, 1995; Sabbaugh, 1995), which suggests that discourse among family members is a context in which children learn about feelings, thoughts, and beliefs and how to talk about such concepts.
This capacity is also known as "mentalizing," having a "theory of mind," or possessing an "intentional stance" (1-7). This ability forms the basis of such diverse human activities as negotiating treaties, deciding to make a charitable donation, or selecting a day-care center for one's child.
Associations also have been found between theory-of-mind ability and the quality of children's interactions with friends in terms of levels of conflict and smooth communication (Dunn & Cutting, 1999), amount of time spent in explicit role assignment during pretend play, and ability to engage in joint planning of pretend play with peers (Astington & Jenkins, 1995; Jenkins & Astington, 2000).
Children from ages 2 to 5 have yet to develop what's known as a theory of mind--the understanding that other people have hidden thoughts that are different from yours and that you can conceal your thoughts too. Without that knowledge, kids conceal nothing. "They love you," says Gopnik, "and they really, really express it."
Since their discovery, mirror neurons have been implicated in a broad range of phenomena, including certain mental disorders. Mirror neurons may help cognitive scientists explain how children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is a child's understanding that others have minds similar to their own. Doing so may help shed light on autism, in which this type of understanding is often missing.
Impairments in theory of mind and in executive functions have both been hypothesized to underlie the core, defining symptoms of autism. The theory of mind hypothesis (Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen, 2000) posits that autism involves an impairment in the ability to conceive of mental states and to use mental state concepts to interpret and predict one's own and other people's behavior.
Thus, Theory of Mind explains and interprets daily life activities. It focuses on how to interpret, predict, and understand behaviors, intentions, false beliefs, and knowledge, as a way of directing one's own actions and making decisions. Theory of Mind is concerned with how people understand and are aware of consciousness and mental acts (Gauvain, 1998).
An appreciation of others' thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and wishes, or a "theory of mind," is essential for competent communication. Without a theory of mind, I may give you too much information, or too little; I may hurt your feelings, confuse you, or bore you. With a theory of mind, I can judge what you need and want to know.
Understanding others’ intentions is a critical part of making moral judgments in what morality researchers refer to as “theory of mind.” (For example, did a man let his girlfriend cross an unstable bridge because he didn’t realize it could collapse, or did he knowingly let her go without a warning?) Inferring the intentions behind people’s actions helps us to make moral determinations, and the TPJ is most active during the process of sizing up people’s motivations.
Theory of mind, which is the ability to recognize that other people may hold different ideas, desires, and beliefs that may affect their behaviors, is an important precursor to many areas of social development (Dunn, 1995; Dunn & Cutting, 1999). The ability to recognize that others may have differing desires and beliefs appears to be related to the more basic ability to understand that others may have differing perspectives (i.e., visual perspective taking; Pears & Moses, 2003).