Meltzoff found that month-old infants could perform target manipulations that adult experimenters attempted and failed, suggesting the infants could represent the object-manipulating behavior of adults as involving goals and intentions. Recent research in developmental psychology suggests that the infant's ability to imitate others lies at the origins of both theory of mind and other social-cognitive achievements like perspective-taking and empathy. Some researchers in comparative disciplines have hesitated to put a too-ponderous weight on imitation as a critical precursor to advanced human social-cognitive skills like mentalizing and empathizing, especially if true imitation is no longer employed by adults.
A test of imitation by Alexandra Horowitz  found that adult subjects imitated an experimenter demonstrating a novel task far less closely than children did. Horowitz points out that the precise psychological state underlying imitation is unclear and cannot, by itself, be used to draw conclusions about the mental states of humans.
While much research has been done on infants, theory of mind develops continuously throughout childhood and into late adolescence as the synapses neuronal connections in the prefrontal cortex develop. The prefrontal cortex is thought to be involved in planning and decision-making. The first skill to develop is the ability to recognize that others have diverse desires. Children are able to recognize that others have diverse beliefs soon after. The next skill to develop is recognizing that others have access to different knowledge bases.
Finally, children are able to understand that others may have false beliefs and that others are capable of hiding emotions. While this sequence represents the general trend in skill acquisition, it seems that more emphasis is placed on some skills in certain cultures, leading to more valued skills to develop before those that are considered not as important.
For example, in individualistic cultures such as the United States, a greater emphasis is placed on the ability to recognize that others have different opinions and beliefs. In a collectivistic culture, such as China, this skill may not be as important and therefore may not develop until later. However, many other abilities develop during this same time period as well, and do not produce such high correlations with one another nor with theory of mind.
There must be something else going on to explain the relationship between theory of mind and language. Pragmatic theories of communication  assume that infants must possess an understanding of beliefs and mental states of others to infer the communicative content that proficient language users intend to convey.
Since a verbal utterance is often underdetermined, and therefore, it can have different meanings depending on the actual context theory of mind abilities can play a crucial role in understanding the communicative and informative intentions of others and inferring the meaning of words.
Some empirical results  suggest that even month-old infants have an early capacity for communicative mind-reading that enables them to infer what relevant information is transferred between communicative partners, which implies that human language relies at least partially on theory of mind skills.
Carol A. Miller posed further possible explanations for this relationship. One idea was that the extent of verbal communication and conversation involving children in a family could explain theory of mind development. The belief is that this type of language exposure could help introduce a child to the different mental states and perspectives of others. Since a mental state is not something that one can observe from behavior, children must learn the meanings of words denoting mental states from verbal explanations alone, requiring knowledge of the syntactic rules, semantic systems, and pragmatics of a language.
Recognizing these sentential complements as being independent of one another is a relatively complex syntactic skill and has been shown to be related to increased scores on theory of mind tasks in children. The temporoparietal junction has been shown to be involved in the ability to acquire new vocabulary, as well as perceive and reproduce words.
The temporoparietal junction also contains areas that specialize in recognizing faces, voices, and biological motion, in addition to theory of mind. Since all of these areas are located so closely together, it is reasonable to conclude that they work together.
Moreover, studies have reported an increase in activity in the TPJ when patients are absorbing information through reading or images regarding other peoples' beliefs but not while observing information about physical control stimuli. A focal question is how they use these concepts to meet the diverse demands of social life, ranging from snap decisions about how to trick an opponent in a competitive game, to keeping up with who knows what in a fast-moving conversation, to judging the guilt or innocence of the accused in a court of law.
Agnes Kovacs and colleagues measured the time it took adults to detect the presence of a ball as it was revealed from behind an occluder. They found that adults responded more slowly when an avatar standing in the room happened to see fewer dots than they did, even when they had never been asked to pay attention to what the avatar could see. The idea that theory of mind is automatic is attractive because it would help explain how people keep up with the theory of mind demands of competitive games and fast-moving conversations.
It might also explain evidence that human infants and some non-human species sometimes appear capable of theory of mind, despite their limited resources for memory and cognitive control. This account has been criticised by Peter Carruthers who suggests that the same core theory of mind abilities can be used in both simple and complex ways. In contrast to theory of mind, empathy shows no impairments in aging. Cognitive theory of mind is further separated into first order e.
There is evidence that cognitive and affective theory of mind processes are functionally independent from one another. However, it is difficult to discern a clear pattern of theory of mind variation due to age. There have been many discrepancies in the data collected thus far, likely due to small sample sizes and the use of different tasks that only explore one aspect of theory of mind. Many researchers suggest that the theory of mind impairment is simply due to the normal decline in cognitive function.
Although they begin the development of theory of mind around the same time, toddlers from these countries understand knowledge access KA before Western children but take longer to understand false beliefs FB. Because of these different cultural values, Iranian and Chinese children might take longer to understand that other people have different, sometimes false, beliefs.
This suggests that the development of theory of mind is not universal and solely determined by innate brain processes but also influenced by social and cultural factors. It is a challenging question, due to the difficulty of assessing what pre-linguistic children understand about others and the world.
Tasks used in research into the development of Theory of Mind must take into account the umwelt — the German word Umwelt means "environment" or "surrounding world" —of the pre-verbal child.
To do this, it is suggested, one must understand how knowledge is formed, that people's beliefs are based on their knowledge, that mental states can differ from reality, and that people's behavior can be predicted by their mental states.
Numerous versions of the false-belief task have been developed, based on the initial task done by Wimmer and Perner For example, the child is shown two dolls, Sally and Anne, who have a basket and a box, respectively.
Sally also has a marble, which she places into her basket, and then leaves the room. While she is out of the room, Anne takes the marble from the basket and puts it into the box. Sally returns, and the child is then asked where Sally will look for the marble.
The child passes the task if she answers that Sally will look in the basket, where Sally put the marble; the child fails the task if she answers that Sally will look in the box, where the child knows the marble is hidden, even though Sally cannot know this, since she did not see it hidden there.
To pass the task, the child must be able to understand that another's mental representation of the situation is different from their own, and the child must be able to predict behavior based on that understanding. Another example is when a boy leaves chocolate on a shelf and then leaves the room. His mother puts it in the fridge. To pass the task, the child must understand that the boy, upon returning, holds the false belief that his chocolate is still on the shelf.
For instance, when they show hindsight bias , defined as: "the inclination to see events that have already happened as being more predictable than they were before they took place. Also in experiments with complicated situations, when assessing others' thinking, adults can be unable to disregard certain information that they have been given. In the "Unexpected contents", or "Smarties" task, experimenters ask children what they believe to be the contents of a box that looks as though it holds a candy called " Smarties ".
After the child guesses usually "Smarties", it is shown that the box in fact contained pencils. The experimenter then re-closes the box and asks the child what she thinks another person, who has not been shown the true contents of the box, will think is inside. Other tasks[ edit ] The "false-photograph" task   is another task that serves as a measure of theory of mind development.
To do this, the experiments varied the amount of visuomotor information displayed by the action scene i. Results revealed that prior information exerted a greater influence on the inference of social intentions than on non-social intentions in typically developing adults.
In contrast, the effect of prior expectations was similar across the two conditions in ASD adults. This finding suggests that, unlike in controls, in ASD, the same neurocognitive mechanism subserves social and non-social inferential processes.
While the top-down influence of social-specific priors was markedly attenuated, bottom-up sensory processing was normal. This study revealed that the ability to predict events may further vary depending on the type of intention to be inferred: action prediction relies more heavily on prior experience than on sensory evidence when inferring intentions in a social interactive context i. This interplay explains why ASD deficits are more pronounced in social-interactive situations, where priors are of particular importance.
Chambon et al. Thus, while in typically developing individuals, prior knowledge may come into play where there is a lack of sensory information and physical constraints, for individuals with ASD, the attenuated effect of prior knowledge has a negative impact on social understanding and behavior. Interestingly, this study also revealed that, although participants with ASD did not exhibit spontaneous preference for TFT mode of reciprocation, they were able to acquire this social bias progressively, likely through a probabilistic learning mechanism which also operates for inferring private intentions from motor actions.
Importantly, in addition to highlighting the close connections between ToM deficits and the lack of social priors, Chambon et al. That is, adaptive prior social biases held by TD individuals, such as the tendency to assume that a cooperative action by one agent will be reciprocated by his partner, might be taught to individuals with ASD. Thus, it is still up for debate whether they can consolidate and store social information acquired through general probabilistic learning mechanism.
Indeed, it is possible that difficulties in recruiting prior knowledge, and their contributions to deficits in mental state ascription, are due to a broader deficit in ASD in consolidating episodic information from past experience in long-term memory.
Maurer et al. The participants played the role of investors and each counterpart was introduced to a player with a short biographical description about relevant personal events and professional achievements. Conversely, although ASD participants were sensitive to reciprocation, the reputational prior continued to exert a strong impact on their trust behavior: they were highly reluctant to reciprocate with participants with incongruous profiles.
They never completely trusted the counterparts with a negative reputation, even if one of the two counterparts repeatedly showed collaborative behavior, and they continued to put more trust in the counterparts with a positive reputation, even when one of them adopted an uncooperative behavior. Overall, these findings suggest that although preserved general learning abilities might sometimes sustain social learning, spontaneous and implicit social learning appears to be diminished in individuals with ASD.
In addition, when engaged in interactive exchange, even when they are provided with explicit prior knowledge for their inferences, they do so awkwardly or inflexibly, which results in a reduced sense of reciprocity. Thus, beyond an attenuated effect of priors, these results suggest that individuals with ASD have difficulties in flexibly integrating prior knowledge and feedback learning.
These results suggest that inflexible social interaction and difficulties with social learning in ASD are explained by a disturbance in the Bayesian inferential mechanisms that adaptively regulate the interplay between prior expectations and sensory information. In static theory of mind tasks such as the Faux Pas task, ASD individuals may fail to draw on prior knowledge to make general inferences that are required before mental state inference can take place. When provided with explicit prior knowledge, they encounter difficulties using this information flexibly and adaptively in an interactive context.
The Integration Deficit Hypothesis In addition to prior knowledge, a number of distinct sources of information inform social cognition. Achim et al. Within this framework, difficulties with advanced ToM tasks or mental state ascription in real-life situations in individuals with ASD may reflect either the lack of immediate or stored sources of information or the inability to efficiently and automatically integrate information about mental states i.
Empirical support for the integration hypothesis is provided by studies investigating the relationship between intentional judgment and moral reasoning in adults with ASD Moran et al. For TD individuals, intention information is a crucial component of moral reasoning Cushman, ; Malle et al. Buon et al. In addition, even when they correctly attributed intentions and mental states to an agent, a subgroup of individuals with ASD failed to appeal to mental state information to justify their moral judgments Buon et al.
These findings support the hypothesis that difficulties using mental state information for social reasoning in individuals with ASD reflect an impairment in integrating conflicting information about mental states and outcomes — e.
These behavioral results are consistent with previous neuroimaging study in which the neural activity in the right temporo-parietal junction, a region crucially involved in representing mental states, was transiently disrupted using transcranial magnetic stimulation during a task requiring intention attribution for moral judgment Young et al.
A Deficit of the Episodic Control System Studies suggest that these types of failures to integrate different types of information may reflect impairments in cognitive control in ASD Geurts et al. Cognitive control refers to the processes that permit the flexible allocation of attentional and executive resources to guide thoughts and actions in the service of internal goals.
Previous investigations have provided consistent evidence in favor of executive dysfunctions in autism Hill, ; Hill and Bird, ; Geurts et al. Here we explore several candidates for such specific dysfunctions. Barbalat et al. The authors used an experimental paradigm which modeled three types of hierarchical organized executive control systems: sensory, contextual, and episodic, each recruiting distinct regions of the prefrontal cortex, along a rostro-caudal axis of the frontal lobe Koechlin et al.
These bindings associate information related to incoming signals and specific action plans, and allow flexible switching between appropriate behaviors.
Importantly, participants with ASD performed as well as comparison participants when they were required to select a specific response associated with sensory signals or the selection of a specific set of stimulus-response associations consistent with immediate contextual signals, but they demonstrated decreased accuracy when required to control information conveyed by episodic information Barbalat et al. This result is in keeping with findings that individuals with ASD are impaired in the control of information conveyed by past events Hare et al.
Interestingly, the more participants were impaired in episodic control processes, the more severe their symptoms were, as measured by the Autistic Spectrum Quotient AQ. In accordance with previous literature, this study shows that difficulties in ASD reflect the disruption of a specific functional system, the Episodic Control system, which encompasses the executive functions and episodic memory. Based on this finding, we hypothesize that in ASD, the disruption of this system compromises the ability to encode, integrate and consolidate episodic knowledge to be used for social and interpersonal reasoning.
Episodic memory refers to the memory for personal experiences in specific temporal, spatial and situational contexts, integrated in a single representation.
In humans, it is associated with a sense of self, subjective time, and self-awareness Tulving, Relevant to our proposal is the notion that the Episodic Control system allows episodic information from long-term memory to be temporarily represented and recalled as integrated, coherent, and multimodal in the Episodic Buffer Baddeley, According to Baddeley , the Episodic Buffer is a passive, multidimensional storage system capable of holding episodes.
Crucially, it serves to create an interface between long-term memory and the visuo-spatial and phonological systems. Indeed, the episodic buffer is not itself responsible for the process of binding, but together with a central executive system, it is capable of holding episodes and integrated chunks of information. Thus, in carrying out this integration, the episodic buffer plays a key role in complex tasks, such as learning, comprehension and conscious reasoning, in both the intrapersonal and social domains.
Together with the episodic buffer, the episodic memory system plays a key role in facilitating social interaction and social understanding.
Episodic memory is a source of memory for past social experiences specific to a time and place. But its main function is not to reminisce about the past, but to offer autobiographical, memory-based predictions for ongoing and distant future events by 1 providing spatially and temporally specific information about single experiences and 2 supporting the capacity to make novel inferences Allen and Fortin, Episodic memory thus plays a crucial role in processing and using social information: the ability to navigate the social world depends on the capacity to remember specific experiences e.
The importance of episodic memory in social functioning was demonstrated by Davidson et al. The authors found that the patients had difficulty recalling details about places and specific episodes involving others, and also experienced problems using these memories.
The theory of mind hypothesis cannot explain the persistent real-life handicaps of autistics who understand mental states, nor account for the nonsocial peculiarities seen in autism.
A deficit in central coherence is suggested as the source of these features. Results from a preliminary test of this hypothesis suggested that even autistic subjects who develop theory of mind ability are impaired at extracting context-dependent meaning. The implications of these findings for the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, the relations between the social and nonsocial impairments, and suggestions for further research are discussed.This might explain why some autistic individuals show extreme deficits in both theory of mind and pretend play. Examples would be: a human performing a reach-to-grasp motion on empty space next to an object, versus grasping the object;  a human shifting eye gaze toward empty space next to a checkerboard target versus shifting gaze toward the target;  an unladen human turning on a light with his knee, versus turning on a light with his knee while carrying a pile of books;  and a walking human pausing as he passes behind a bookshelf, versus walking at a constant speed. For example, in individualistic cultures such as the United States, a greater emphasis is placed on the ability to recognize that others have different opinions and beliefs.
Single-electrode recording revealed that these neurons fired when a monkey performed an action, as well as when the monkey viewed another agent carrying out the same task.
Deficits in the use of prior knowledge and integration of socially relevant information acquired from diverse channels are broadly consistent with impairment in the episodic control system. These results suggest that inflexible social interaction and difficulties with social learning in ASD are explained by a disturbance in the Bayesian inferential mechanisms that adaptively regulate the interplay between prior expectations and sensory information. These behavioral results are consistent with previous neuroimaging study in which the neural activity in the right temporo-parietal junction, a region crucially involved in representing mental states, was transiently disrupted using transcranial magnetic stimulation during a task requiring intention attribution for moral judgment Young et al. Within the false-photograph task, either a location or identity change exists. See also: Animal consciousness and Theory of mind in animals An open question is whether other animals besides humans have a genetic endowment and social environment that allows them to acquire a theory of mind in the same way that human children do. Understanding attention, understanding of others' intentions, and imitative experience with other people are hallmarks of a theory of mind that may be observed early in the development of what later becomes a full-fledged theory.
Such is the case for the acquisition of social priors: individuals with autism appear able to achieve limited social learning within a fixed context. This result is in keeping with findings that individuals with ASD are impaired in the control of information conveyed by past events Hare et al. Activity in extrastriate regions V3 and LO was identical across the two groups, suggesting intact lower-level visual processing in the subjects with autism. However, not all ToM concepts are the same: for example, desire is acquired before belief Wellman and Woolley, ; Bartsch and Wellman, , and some more advanced concepts continue to develop well into adolescence. The participants played the role of investors and each counterpart was introduced to a player with a short biographical description about relevant personal events and professional achievements.
First, the social perceiver takes into account the sensory evidence conveyed by movement kinematics. Miller posed further possible explanations for this relationship. As a variant of contextualism, RFT focuses on the construction of practical, scientific knowledge. However, not all ToM concepts are the same: for example, desire is acquired before belief Wellman and Woolley, ; Bartsch and Wellman, , and some more advanced concepts continue to develop well into adolescence. Achim et al. However, it is possible that the observation of overlapping regions for representing beliefs and attentional reorienting may simply be due to adjacent, but distinct, neuronal populations that code for each.
Thus, it is still up for debate whether they can consolidate and store social information acquired through general probabilistic learning mechanism.