International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008


A Behavior Analytic Interpretation of Theory of Mind

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008 - Pages 335-350


Joseph E. Spradlin , Nancy Brady


The inference that others are subject to private events is almost universal among humans.
Since no one has direct access to another person?s private events, we have proposed this
inference occurs because of: 1) The almost simultaneous occurrence a child?s private kinesthetic
stimuli and the visual stimuli produced by another person?s motor act during imitation of
motor acts; 2) The similarity between the child?s vocal behavior and that of another person
during vocal imitation; and 3) The stimulus equivalence that occurs when the child?s
behavior and similar behavior of others are given the same name. We have proposed that
perspective taking is a very common activity in our daily lives and that performance on
false belief tests is a special case of perspective taking. In our analysis of the prerequisites
for successful predictions on false belief tests we have considered false belief tests as
primarily predictions concerning the behavior of others in situations in which discriminative
stimuli are available to the child being tested and not to the protagonist about whom the
child is to make a prediction. Predictions about other?s behavior are made on the basis of
three types of prior observations and descriptions: (a) observation and descriptions of the
behavior of a specific individual in similar situations; (b) observation and descriptions of
the behavior of many different people in similar situations; and (c) observation and descriptions of one?s own behavior in similar situations. Success on the false belief tests necessitates discrimination between the stimuli available to the child and those available to the protagonist.

Key words:

perspective taking, false beliefs, private events, imitation, children with disabilities.

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