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Social Cognition, Language Acquisition and The Development of the Theory of Mind

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 13:06 authored by Garfield, JL, Peterson, CC, Perry, T
Theory of Mind (ToM) is the cognitive achievement that enables us to report our prepositional attitudes, to attribute such attitudes to others, and to use such postulated or observed mental states in the prediction and explanation of behavior. Most normally developing children acquire ToM between the ages of 3 and 5 years, but serious delays beyond this chronological and mental age have been observed in children with autism, as well as in those with severe sensory impairments. We examine data from studies of ToM in normally developing children and those with deafness, blindness, autism and Williams syndrome, as well as data from lower primates, in a search for answers to key theoretical questions concerning the origins, nature and representation of knowledge about the mind. In answer to these, we offer a framework according to which ToM is jointly dependent upon language and social experience, and is produced by a conjunction of language acquisition with children's growing social understanding, acquired through conversation and interaction with others. We argue that adequate language and adequate social skills are jointly causally sufficient, and individually causally necessary, for producing ToM. Thus our account supports a social developmental theory of the genesis of human cognition, inspired by the work of Sellars and Vygotsky.


Publication title

Mind & Language










School of Humanities


Blackwell Publishers Ltd

Place of publication

Oxford, UK

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies

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