Describe what evolutionary psychologists mean when they employ the term 'theory of mind'. Use examples and research studies from Book 1, Chapter 2 to show why this theory is important in evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is a specialist field within the spectrum of psychological enquiry, which seeks to examine and understand some of the predominant reasoning behind the concept of why the human species, whilst biologically similar to other species on the planet, is so very distinct in terms of intelligence and mental progression; demonstrated by the multifaceted and complex social structures we have created. Primary to this domain of evolutionary psychological interest is the notion of 'theory of mind', which was developed and advocated by Premack and Woodruff (1978), and has been the topic of fierce discussion and analysis since. It has resulted in manifold research studies and commentaries, regarding the topic, from an extensive range of sources within the academic field of psychology. This essay intends to explore the concept of theory of mind, using examples and research studies to fathom its relevance, application and significance within evolutionary psychology as a whole.
The concept of 'theory of mind' is a complex one with various considerations. It can basically be defined as, 'The ability to understand or 'read' the mind of another individual; the ability to 'put oneself in the place of another',' (Smith and Stevens 2002). Essentially, 'theory of mind' is concerned with the ideal that a person can comprehend what another person in the same situation may be thinking, or the way in which they may be feeling, without the necessity for direct contact and communication to establish that information. The paramount dilemma for psychologists researching this area of evolutionary psychology, is the difficulty in ensuring that it genuinely is the mind of another individual that a person is responding to, rather than their overt behaviour, bearing in mind the impossibility of looking directly into another's mind. To attempt to relinquish some of these concerns regarding the differentiation of mind and behaviour definition, Whiten (1996) established four distinct variations of mind- reading.
These are implicit mind- reading, counter- deception, recognition of intervening variables, and experience projection. Implicit mind- reading states that people can understand an individuals behaviour is linked to how they are thinking in a certain situation, or how they may perceive that particular situation. An example would be the assumption that because someone is sleeping, they are tired. Counter- deception involves an individual separating the overt actions of another from what their actual motivation for behaving in that particular way is.
This could be seen in the form of 'reverse psychology'. Recognition of intervening variables understands how certain events and situations can cause particular reactions and responses from others. An example of this would be a fight situation, where the attacked party could well feel afraid, and as a result run away. The final variation of mind- reading is that of experience projection; which allows individuals to apply their personal experiences onto other people. For example, someone who broke their leg and experienced the pain, would be able to empathize with another individual who they saw break their leg. In 1988, Premack carried out a research study which would appear to support the notion of the 'theory of mind'.
In his study, which was centred on an adult chimpanzee called Sarah; he exposed her to videotapes of an actor with a problem, namely an inability to reach some bananas that were placed out of reach overhead. He then proceeded to show Sarah a number of photographed solutions to the problem, only one of which actually evidenced a successful solution to the problem, (in this situation, it was stepping on a chair). Sarah selected this correct solution enough times for Premack to consider it well above the levels of chance, thus suggesting she was able to interpret the actors intentions of utilizing the chair to reach the bananas above. This would suggest that chimpanzees on some level have a 'theory of mind'; in this example, of the implicit mind- reading variety. In 1992, Cosmid es and Too by also conducted an experiment that would appear to maintain the belief in a 'theory of mind'.
Their study centred round a scenario concerning a shelter for hikers in the mountains, which had a rule stating that if it was used overnight, than the beneficiary must replenish the firewood after use. However, because of the isolated location of the cabin, this rule was not always followed. Respondents took on two roles, that of the guards, and that of the hikers, and were given certain situations from which they had to deduce what the rule was. 83% of the participants successfully deduced that the rule was concerning cheating, which again would evidence 'theory of mind', in action, perhaps utilizing the counter- deception model.' Theory of mind' plays a pivotal role in the application and understanding of evolutionary psychology as a discipline. One area which demonstrates the importance of 'theory of mind' is developmental psychologists perspective on the study of autism. Baren- Cohen (1990) suggests that this condition is a working model of what life is like without an ability to mind- read.
This is a demonstration of how important this theory is in the wider context of evolutionary psychology, because if Baren- Cohen is accurate in his suggestion, 'these studies indicate the crucial role that having a theory of mind plays for an effective social life.' (Smith and Stevens 2002). Theory of mind has also enabled numerous evolutionary psychologists to attempt to understand and analyse the social behaviour and interactions of other species on the planet, such as apes and chimpanzees, which in itself is surely the essence of the discipline. So, in conclusion theory of mind is a method of explaining human social interaction, which goes some distance to explaining our somewhat seemingly planetary unique ability to empathize, comprehend, and guess others actions and behaviour. It has been researched by a number of psychologists in the field, and is an extremely useful and viable tool in explaining some of the complexities of the human condition. It has a central position in the field of evolutionary psychology, and will continue to do so; with good reason, for without its presence a large amount of the remainder of the psychological spectrum would have difficulty understanding anything about the human mind. References Smith, S.
& Stevens, R. (2002) Evolutionary Psychology, in Mill, D. , Pheonix, A. and Thomas, K. (eds) Mapping Psychology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University..