Theory of Mind in Transition: New Methods Require an Expanded Understanding
People do not act on the basis of reality, but on how they represent reality, that is their beliefs. Understanding beliefs plays thus a crucial role in successful interaction. Although there is a remarkable body of research on this topic, the nature of the underlying mechanisms is still largely unexplained. I propose that humans spontaneously track others’ beliefs early in ontogeny based on the findings that infants consider others’ beliefs when regulating their own behavior. I will present data that suggest that humans share this ability with their closest relatives, the nonhuman great apes. Likewise, I will present first time evidence for the spontaneous belief tracking in children with autism spectrum disorder. Another focus of my presentation is on the elderly. Previous studies have accredited these with a decline in understanding beliefs. I will show that the supporting findings were task-related, and that there is no deficit in understanding others’ beliefs in late adulthood.