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Neural Correlates of Children's Theory of Mind Development

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Neural Correlates of Children's Theory of Mind Development

Human social interaction largely depends on unique and sophisticated abilities to attribute unobservable mental states (beliefs, desires, intentions, etc.) to ourselves and others (Wellman, 1990). This is what psychologists call "theory of mind" which underlies human cooperation, deception, communication, and cultural learning.

By definition Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states - beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. - to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.

The phenomenon of theory of mind is very significant for study of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder involving specific impairments in understanding of mental states (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985). Specificity of the social-cognitive impairments in autism led the scientists to conjecture that theory of mind development may be paced by changes to relatively specific neural circuitry. The research interest and goal of the present neurophysiological study was to provide develĀ¬opmental data about the neural correlates of one major milestone of young children's theory of mind development: the understanding of false beliefs, that is, to recognize that others can have beliefs about the world that are diverging. As it is generally suggested people's beliefs are based on their knowledge, and that mental states can differ from reality, that people's behavior can be predicted by their mental states.

Numerous versions of the false-belief task have been developed, based on the initial task done by Wimmer and Perner (1983). In the most classic version of the false-belief task (often called the "Sally-Anne" task) children are shown two dolls, Sally and Anne, who have a basket and a box, respectively. Sally places a marble in her basket and then leaves. Meanwhile Anne takes the marble from the basket and puts it in her box. Sally returns, and the children are asked where Sally will look for the marble. The task passers say that Sally will look in her basket and the failers say that Sally will look in the box, where the child (failer) knows the marble is hidden, even though Sally cannot know. In order to pass the task, the child must be able to understand that another's mental representation of the situation is different from their own, and the child must be able to predict behavior based on that understanding.

A similar false-belief task, as an example, is represented in the present article, where children between the ages of 3 and 6 years are provided with the following scenario: Max puts a puppy in a red box, then leaves and the puppy moves from the red box to a blue box. When children are asked where Max thinks the puppy is, they robustly develop from answering according to reality to answering



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