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Monday, December 27, 2010

Theory of Mind is being challenged

[Edit: 12-29-2010 Neurotic Physiology Explained this experiment in much greater detail than what I had found previously.  Click Here for his insightful article.]

 Article on PhysOrg today about Theory of Mind.   Some time ago, I learned about Theory of Mind via the Vignette embedded below, which is quite well done.  Apparently new papers are being released claiming that theory of mind is displayed in the behavior of children under three years old.  This effect was previously thought to not be possible due to the developmental stages of children. 

The description of the experiment, to quote PhysOrg, quoting AAAS:
   "The experiments involved showing the test subject a series of animated videos in which a ball first rolls behind a small wall, and then either stays there, rolls out of view, or rolls away and comes back.
A cartoon character observes different intervals of this process. At the end of each video, the researchers measured how long it took the test subjects to detect the ball. (For the babies, the researchers inferred this based on how long it took the infants to look away from the screen.)
Both the adults’ and infants’ reaction times were faster when the cartoon character’s “belief” about the ball’s location matched the ball’s actual whereabouts. This was the case even when the cartoon character had left the screen by the end of the video.""

Here's the abstract from the actual Paper by Ágnes Melinda Kovács, Ernő Téglás, and Ansgar Denis Endress
"Human social interactions crucially depend on the ability to represent other agents’ beliefs even when these contradict our own beliefs, leading to the potentially complex problem of simultaneously holding two conflicting representations in mind. Here, we show that adults and 7-month-olds automatically encode others’ beliefs, and that, surprisingly, others’ beliefs have similar effects as the participants’ own beliefs. In a visual object detection task, participants’ beliefs and the beliefs of an agent (whose beliefs were irrelevant to performing the task) both modulated adults’ reaction times and infants’ looking times. Moreover, the agent’s beliefs influenced participants’ behavior even after the agent had left the scene, suggesting that participants computed the agent’s beliefs online and sustained them, possibly for future predictions about the agent’s behavior. Hence, the mere presence of an agent automatically triggers powerful processes of belief computation that may be part of a “social sense” crucial to human societies."

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