Theorizing Takes Time

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Science  03 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5800, pp. 729
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5800.729b

The human ability (commonly referred to as a theory of mind) to formulate inferences about the mental states, such as beliefs and intentions, of others is a fundamental item in our social cognitive skill set. Apperly et al. have asked whether the component reasoning processes operate in an automatic fashion, in the background as it were, and yield output that can be summoned effortlessly when needed. Using the canonical Maxi type of false-belief task (which some might argue has attained a mythic status), they required that participants report the final positions of objects, both their actual locations as well as where female actors believed them to be. In comparison to keeping track of the physical objects, participants required more time to infer where the actors thought they were located; though if explicitly forewarned to monitor belief states, they were equally fast at specifying actual and supposed locations. Does this mean that we do not automatically maintain a running tally of who believes what? Not quite—there may be an unconscious pre-processing of evidence into candidate belief states, where the final step of asserting which one to act on is taken only on demand. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 17, 841 (2006).

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