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Published February 2015 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Deconstructing and reconstructing theory of mind


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.

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.

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