Theory of Mind: A Primatological Perspective

  • Juliane Kaminski
Living reference work entry


Human social cognition is unique because humans can, in some situations, make predictions about others’ mental states, an ability referred to as “Theory of Mind.” Whether other primates also have the ability to attribute mental states to others is a highly debated question. While members of different primate species seem to follow other individuals’ gazes and are sensitive to others’ attentional states, there is as yet evidence in only a few species for an understanding of others’ visual perspectives, knowledge states, or intentions. The hallmark of mental state attribution, false belief understanding, appears to be a uniquely human skill. At present there is no evidence that any animal species understands that others’ beliefs can contradict reality, and therefore be false. This is why the consensus is, for now, that although certain primate species understand certain psychological states in others, there is not sufficient evidence for true mental state attribution. It remains to be seen whether this view continues to be supported by future studies; in other areas of comparative cognitive science, new results have resulted in dramatic paradigm shifts in recent years.


Primate Species Capuchin Monkey Visual Perspective Mental State Attribution False Belief Understanding 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PortsmouthPortsmouthUK

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