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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Theory of mind in animals: Current and future directions

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Abstract Theory of mind (ToM; a.k.a., mind‐reading, mentalizing, mental‐state attribution, and perspective‐taking) is the ability to ascribe mental states, such as desires and beliefs, to others, and it is central to the unique forms of communication, cooperation, and culture that define our species. As a result, for 40 years, researchers have endeavored to determine whether ToM is itself unique to humans. Investigations in other species (e.g., apes, monkeys, corvids) are essential to understand the mechanistic underpinnings and evolutionary origins of this capacity across taxa, including humans. We review the literature on ToM in nonhuman animals, suggesting that some species share foundational social cognitive mechanisms with humans. We focus principally on innovations of the last decade and pressing directions for future work. Underexplored types of social cognition have been targeted, including ascription of mental states, such as desires and beliefs, that require simultaneously representing one's own and another's conflicting motives or views of the world. Ongoing efforts probe the motivational facets of ToM, how flexibly animals can recruit social cognitive skills across cooperative and competitive settings, and appropriate motivational contexts for comparative inquiry. Finally, novel methodological and empirical approaches have brought new species (e.g., lemurs, dogs) into the lab, implemented critical controls to elucidate underlying mechanisms, and contributed powerful new techniques (e.g., looking‐time, eye‐tracking) that open the door to unexplored approaches for studying animal minds. These innovations in cognition, motivation, and method promise fruitful progress in the years to come, in understanding the nature and origin of ToM in humans and other species. This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition Psychology > Comparative Psychology Neuroscience > Cognition
Desire attribution experiments with Eurasian jays. (a) A female was sated on one type of food, decreasing her desire for that food relative to others, while her male partner watched. (b) The male could then choose to share with the female either the sated (undesired) food or a desired alternative. (c) Males shifted their choice of foods depending on what their female partners still wanted. Copyright 2019 Ljerka Ostojić and Lovre Čulina
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False belief tests with great apes. Apes' gaze is recorded as they witness an actor chase a costumed gorilla into a hiding place on the right (a), and watch as the gorilla moves to a second location on the left (b). The actor then leaves through a door (c), and, while away, the gorilla flees the scene (d). The actor returns, falsely believing that the gorilla is still on the left. As the actor approaches centrally toward the two locations (e), apes' looks in advance of his search are automatically coded based on predetermined areas‐of‐interest (f). Apes look in anticipation of the actor searching for the gorilla on the left, where the actor falsely believes the gorilla to be
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Eye‐tracking setup. An infrared eye‐tracker noninvasively records an orangutan's gaze as she attends to pictures and videos presented on a monitor, just outside of her enclosure. A nearby laptop controls stimuli presentation. Subjects voluntarily approach the setup to view the stimuli and sip a slow stream of juice. Copyright 2019 Christopher Krupenye and Leipzig Zoo
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Neuroscience > Cognition
Psychology > Comparative Psychology
Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition

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