Evaluate Different Theoretical Accounts of the Development of 'Theory of Mind'.

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Evaluate different theoretical accounts of the development of a 'theory of mind'.

Understanding others’ actions and intentions involves being able to firstly understand our own thoughts, feelings, actions and where they came from. This involves being able to appreciate what our own feelings, emotions and actions come from in response to a situation and everyday life. A Theory of Mind (TOM) is being able to comprehend and understand the world through another person’s eyes. That is, to which TOM is being able to appreciate another’s emotions and points of view; as in the state of mind of another person in respect to actions and situations. The term Theory of Mind was first introduced by Premack and Woodruff (1978). Stating that it is extremely important for social cognition, in which to being able to ‘read’ other peoples thoughts and feelings, it will become possible to predict what their behaviour and actions will be in certain situations.

TOM allows individuals to see a meaning in the behaviours and actions that people carry out in everyday life; it allows people to see a purpose in what actions people are carrying out in order not to become confused by the daily carryings-out of people. Due to this, it permits a sense to be taken on what transpires in the world, and therefore predict others actions and behaviours from previous knowledge in the same or comparable situations; allowing a certain sense of understanding on why it is happening. Once a person can predict a behaviour outcome sufficiently on an individual with the use of information, it is therefore possible to manipulate them into a certain behaviour using the amount information they choose to give them from mastering TOM.

There have been many tests designed to assess whether children have a TOM; the first being by Wimmer and Perner (1983). They stated that children did not understand false-belief until the age of 3-4 years. Many tests have been based on this initial experiment; using children 3-6 years. The most common false-belief task is the Sally-Anne test:

The experimenter would sit opposite a child at a desk and would first ask the naming question to ensure the child knew which doll was which and then act out the Sally-Anne scenario. The test involved Sally having a basket in front of her and Anne having a box in front of her. Sally places her marble in her basket and then goes for a walk. Anne removes the marble from the basket and places it in the box in front of her, and Sally then comes back from her walk. The child is then asked where Sally will look for her marble. The test is designed to see whether children can comprehend that Sally has not witnessed Anne putting her marble in to her box, and will therefore look in her basket for the marble. The child therefore has to be able to see that Sally’s belief is that her marble is in her box therefore showing that child has a TOM. A reality and a memory question are then asked to ensure the child remembers where the marble was at the beginning of the experiment and knows where the marble really is.

This test is expected to be completed successfully by a 5 year old who has no mental impairment. The Sally-Anne experiment carried out by Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith (1985) used 61 children with Down’s syndrome, autistic children and ‘normal’ 4 year old children, with the experiment being carried out twice, the second time with the marble ending up in the experimenters pocket. The results showed that the naming questions were answered correctly by all children. The results showed however, that only 20% of autistic children and 86% of children with Down’s syndrome answered the belief question correctly, compared to 85% of the 4 year old children suggesting that autistic children lack a TOM. This experiment was replicated by Leslie and Firth (1988) to determine whether autistic children would understand more if the experiment was carried out with real people, as children who are autistic do...
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