Signs of a Deficient Theory of Mind

*This is not a new post and was recovered from the old website. I think I left it behind on purpose, but I want it back now.


Theory of mind, if you don’t know, is the theory of minds that we hold in our minds, We have general theories about certain kinds of minds that we apply to all entities of a type, and we have specific theories about those for whom we have more specific details, including ourselves. The shift from general to specific helps to demonstrate the ongoing development of ToM throughout the lifespan. As more experiences are acquired and more individual perspectives are mixed into our general theories, that which was preconception begins to take on the more informed elements of a specific ToM. Because of these experiential blind spots, everyone’s theory of mind has an occasional glitch. A glitch is not a deficit, and a person’s response to their own mistake is your first sign. A conscientious person will own it and make the necessary modifications to his general and specific constructs, a ToM deficit undermines a person’s ability to do so. He will struggle with perspective-taking and seem incapable of validating your perspective. Still, a failure to right his wrongs does not necessarily signal pathology.

The tendency to interpret minds according to an inflexible construct, pathological in the deficient, is actually quite common, being only more limited in scope among most. Blind spots and bias are the culprits here. In one experiment, researchers introduced the same mock-instructor to two different groups of people, who they later asked to describe her on a small sheet of paper. As many variables as possible were kept constant: same room, clothes, script, use of voice. The only difference is that she was introduced as affable to one group and as surly to the other.