A Case for Theory of Mind


Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion and the beginning of morality.

– Ian McEwan


Theory of Mind (or ToM, for short) is a philosophical and psychological term for the ability to recognise and attribute mental states – such as belief, intent, and desire – in oneself and others. The theory explains how we are able to emphathise with others, predict / explain their actions, and to posit their intentions.

Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that ToM was a crucial skill for primitive man – the ability to run hypothetical scenarios and imagine what another person might be thinking.

Cognitive psychologists have identified that ToM develops at the early stages of life, usually around the age of four-and-a-half. This is when we learn how other people’s interpretations of the world can differ from our own.

It’s also suggested that ToM explains our innate ability to be creative. ToM is closely linked to consciousness and imagination studies – creating characters and scenarios, and imagining alternate realities is key to many creative projects.

We can never be reminded too often of the value inherent in exploring another’s point of view. Instead of seeing life only from your perspective and reacting reflexively, why not be a bit more elastic and spend some time imagining what it might feel like to be the people you are interacting with.

S+ Suggested listening: I’ll be you- The Replacements

 W.K. 2014

Published: October 7th, 2014

Previous in this series:

Appointment with Doubt

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