Using MRI to study developmental change in theory of mind

Hilary Richardson, Rebecca Saxe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

By the time children enter first grade, they have learned a lot about human minds-their own, and other people’s. A five-year-old can tell whether someone is happy or sad, wanted carrots or raisins, and knows or doesn’t know where the missing cookie is. Of course, children and even adults still have a lot to learn about people’s thoughts and emotions; for example, the difference between someone taking a cookie intentionally, accidentally, or negligently, or the difference between feeling happy versus acting happy. This long and impressive developmental progression is sometimes called “acquiring a Theory of Mind.” A full account of Theory of Mind (ToM) development would require us to describe infants’ initial conceptual repertoire, the mature structure of the theory, and how maturation and different learning mechanisms capitalize on children’s experience to bridge this gap (Carey, 2009). To build such an account, developmental psychologists must use many different empirical approaches; while initial studies of ToM typically asked three-to six-year-old children to explain and predict others’ actions (Perner et al., 1987; Wellman et al., 2001), more recent studies of ToM use reaction times, eye tracking measures of anticipation and surprise, live-action measures of intervention, and more (Onishi & Baillageon, 2005; Southgate et al., 2007; Samson et al., 2010; Knudsen & Liszkowski, 2012). In the current chapter, we argue that noninvasive neuroscientific measurements of children’s developing brains offer a promising additional approach, providing a complementary and, in some cases, unique window on key aspects of ToM development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Cognition
Subtitle of host publicationDevelopment Across the Life Span
EditorsJessica Sommerville, Jean Decety
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781315520575
ISBN (Print)9781138859937, 9781138859944
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2016

Publication series

NameFrontiers of Developmental Science


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