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Emergence of theory of mind

Caitlin M Hudac, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Preference for social engagement at birth indicates that social abilities emerge early and have a deeply seated biological basis (Grossmann & Johnson, 2007). Complex social cognition involving the attribution of mental states, beliefs, and desires is called Theory of Mind (ToM). Recent work by Kovács, Téglás, & Endress (2010) suggests that by 7-months infants are capable of ToM, previously thought to be immature until at least 3 years of age. Yet, much remains unknown about how infants integrate and process complex social information. This dissertation breaks new ground in investigating early-emerging ToM mechanisms during infancy (i.e, between 6-10 months). Two aims are addressed: (1) To chart changes in the functional patterns of brain activity and looking behavior associated with the emergence of ToM abilities; (2) To create a computational model addressing theoretical accounts of ToM mechanisms. Infants were enrolled between 6-7.5 months of age in a longitudinal research study. After interactive training to learn object names, infants completed a laboratory session in which event-related potentials and eye movements were acquired while infants observed ToM vignettes. Infants returned after 8 weeks and repeated the procedures to assess the maturation of brain-behavior relationships over time. A series of dynamic neural field models were generated to describe ongoing maturational changes of ToM mechanisms. Finally, a quantitative analysis evaluated how brain-behavior data fit the simulation models of ToM emergence across the second 6-months of life.^

Subject Area

Biology, Neuroscience|Psychology, Developmental

Recommended Citation

Hudac, Caitlin M, "Emergence of theory of mind" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3626333.