The closing of the theory of mind: A critique of perspective-taking

  • Geoff G. ColeEmail author
  • Abbie C. Millett
Theoretical Review


Theory of mind (ToM) is defined as the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others and is often said to be one of the cornerstones of efficient social interaction. In recent years, a number of authors have suggested that one particular ToM process occurs spontaneously in that it is rapid and outside of conscious control. This work has argued that humans efficiently compute the visual perspective of other individuals. In this article, we present a critique of this notion both on empirical and theoretical grounds. We argue that the experiments and paradigms that purportedly demonstrate spontaneous perspective-taking have not as yet convincingly demonstrated the existence of such a phenomenon. We also suggest that it is not possible to represent the percept of another person, spontaneous or otherwise. Indeed, the perspective-taking field has suggested that humans can represent the visual experience of others. That is, going beyond assuming that we can represent another’s viewpoint in anything other than symbolic form. In this sense, the field suffers from the same problem that afflicted the “pictorial” theory in the mental imagery debate. In the last section we present a number of experiments designed to provide a more thorough assessment of whether humans can indeed represent the visual experience of others.


Automaticity Gaze cueing Mental imagery Mental rotation Perspective-taking Social cognition Theory of mind Visual cognition 



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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Brain ScienceUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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