Defining theory of mind (ToM) is not an easy task (Hutto et al., 2011). In their attempt to analyze this concept, Butterfill &Apperly (2011) have constructed minimal ToM, a cognitive ability in which a subject can understand that another individual has a mental-state without attributing him/her this mental-state. Minimal ToM is a cognition (not just an ability), but cannot be identified with full-blown ToM, a proper propositional attribution to, and comprehension of what is going on in another individual’s “mind”. Minimal and full, considered not as two developmental succeeding stages, become alternative routes, exploited either by infants and some animals (minimal), or by adults (full). Question is: why two? The same “route”, actually, might be used differently, depending on age and contexts. The difficulty crops up considering ToM as a final “something”, entirely acquired at a certain age: that allows to think imperfect stages or disparate routes. My opinion is to look at ToM otherwise, as a relational process, dependent on learning context, physical environment and social/cultural transmission of information. Minimal ToM becomes an essential cognitive “toolbox”, inherited phylogenetically. Differences between infants and adults appear because individuals, tracking their environment and learning from this, partially overwrite the “toolbox” with new, sensitive capacities.
Apperly, I.A. (2012) What is “theory of mind”? Concepts, cognitive processes and individual differences. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 5: 825-839.
Butterfill S.A. & Apperly I.A. (2011) How to construct a minimal theory of mind. Mind and Language.
Hutto, D.D., Herschback, M., Southgate, V. (2011) Editorial: Social Cognition: Mindreading and Alternatives. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2: 375-395.
Laura Desirée Di Paolo