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Deconstructing and reconstructing theory of mind

Schaafsma, Sara M. and Pfaff, Donald W. and Spunt, Robert P. and Adolphs, Ralph (2015) Deconstructing and reconstructing theory of mind. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19 (2). pp. 65-72. ISSN 1364-6613. PMCID PMC4314437.

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Usage of the term ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) has exploded across fields ranging from developmental psychology to social neuroscience and psychiatry research. However, its meaning is often vague and inconsistent, its biological bases are a subject of debate, and the methods used to study it are highly heterogeneous. Most crucially, its original definition does not permit easy downward translation to more basic processes such as those studied by behavioral neuroscience, leaving the interpretation of neuroimaging results opaque. We argue for a reformulation of ToM through a systematic two-stage approach, beginning with a deconstruction of the construct into a comprehensive set of basic component processes, followed by a complementary reconstruction from which a scientifically tractable concept of ToM can be recovered.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Additional Information:© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Available online 11 December 2014. For helpful discussions and comments, we would like to thank Jed Elison, Damian Stanley, Evelina Fedorenko, Ian Apperly, Nicholas Epley, Russell Poldrack, Bertram Malle, Frank van Overwalle, as well as Tania Singer and five of her colleagues. For sharing the data used to make Figure 2, we thank Matthias Schurz. S.M.S. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation (13-1002). R.A. and R.P.S. were supported by a Conte Center grant from NIMH (P50MH094258). An initial discussion of some of the themes of this paper took place in a meeting organized by Don Pfaff and Terry Sejnowski at the Center for Research and Teaching in Anthropogeny (CARTA), funded by the Mathers Foundation.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Autism Science Foundation13-1002
Mathers FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:2
PubMed Central ID:PMC4314437
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20141218-091149307
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Official Citation:Sara M. Schaafsma, Donald W. Pfaff, Robert P. Spunt, Ralph Adolphs, Deconstructing and reconstructing theory of mind, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Available online 11 December 2014, ISSN 1364-6613, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:53005
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:18 Dec 2014 17:21
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 07:46

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