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Theory of Mind is Just Behavior

[ Vol. 13 , Issue. 2 ]


Henry D. Schlinger*   Pages 82 - 89 ( 8 )


The term Theory of Mind (ToM) has been used to refer to the ability of an individual to make inferences about what others may be thinking or feeling and to predict what they may do in a given situation based on those inferences—in other words, the ability to take another person’s perspective. Unfortunately, most researchers talk about ToM as if it were a cognitive process, which, if true, means that it can never be studied directly. As a result, various tests of behavior have been devised from which ToM (or the lack thereof) is deduced. As with all cognitive processes, inferring ToM based solely on observed behavior is problematic because there is no direct and independent evidence of the ToM. And, because ToM itself is not directly observable, the question remains as to how one might teach it to individuals diagnosed with psychological disorders who have ToM deficits. In the present essay, I argue that it is more parsimonious and ultimately more practical to view ToM as only a label for a set of observed behaviors that are acquired according to relatively straightforward principles of learning and, thus, also capable of being taught to individuals diagnosed with psychological disorders who lack such behaviors.


Theory of mind, perspective taking, false-belief, behavior, behavior analysis, circular reasoning.


Department of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90032

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