Saturday, September 8, 2012
For the past several decades, research in developmental psychology, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience has focused on the human ability to have a “theory of mind” or to “mentalize.” This involves the ability to make attributions about the mental states (desires, beliefs, intentions) of others. This ability is absent in monkeys and only exists in a rudimentary form in apes. It develops by about age five and is impaired in autism. (The lack of a theory of mind in most autistic children could explain their observed failures in communication and social interaction.) Normal adults are capable of both mentalizing and empathizing. These abilities are useful for making self-interested choices because they enable people to predict others’ actions more accurately.