Theory of mind: a primatological perspective

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Human social cognition is unique because humans can, in some situations, make predictions about others’ mental states, an ability referred to as “Theory of Mind.” Whether other primates also have the ability to attribute mental states to others is a highly debated question. While members of different primate species seem to follow other individuals’ gazes and are sensitive to others’ attentional states, there is as yet evidence in only a few species for an understanding of others’ visual perspectives, knowledge states, or intentions. The hallmark of mental state attribution, false belief understanding, appears to be a uniquely human skill. At present there is no evidence that any animal species understands that others’ beliefs can contradict reality, and therefore be false. This is why the consensus is, for now, that although certain primate species understand certain psychological states in others, there is not sufficient evidence for true mental state attribution. It remains to be seen whether this view continues to be supported by future studies; in other areas of comparative cognitive science, new results led to dramatic paradigm shifts in recent years.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Paleoanthropology
EditorsWinfried Henke, Ian Tattersall
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783642399794
ISBN (Print)9783642399787
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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