Theory of Mind

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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. Impli...

... middle of paper ... 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 empathise, 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.


Smith, S. & Stevens, R. (2002) Evolutionary Psychology, in Miell, D., Pheonix, A. and Thomas, K. (eds) Mapping Psychology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
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