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Monitoring and Controlling the Mental States of Others

by Stephen A. Butterfill and Ian A. Apperly

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The success of infants and nonhuman animals on some belief reasoning tasks may be best explained by a cognitively efficient but inflexible capacity for tracking belief-like states. In humans, this capacity persists in parallel with a later-developing, more flexible but more cognitively demanding theory-of-mind abilities. The later-developing ability clearly involves meta-cognition, both because it involves thinking about thoughts as such, and because it involves at least some conscious, controlled processes. In contrast the early-developing capacity may not be conscious or controlled, and may not involve thinking about thoughts as such. We will consider how these characteristics may explain the efficiency of the early-developing capacity, and whether this means the capacity is meta-cognitive in any meaningful sense.