Do Infants and Nonhuman Animals Attribute Mental States?

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Among psychologists, it is widely thought that infants well under age 3, monkeys, apes, birds, and dogs have been shown to have rudimentary capacities for representing and attributing mental states or relations. I believe this view to be mistaken. It rests on overinterpreting experiments. It also often rests on assuming that one must choose between taking these individuals to be mentalists and taking them to be behaviorists. This assumption underestimates a powerful nonmentalistic, nonbehavioristic explanatory scheme that centers on attributing action with targets and on causation of action by interlocking, internal conative, and sensory states. Neither action with targets, nor conative states, nor sensing entails mentality. The scheme can attribute conative states and relations (to targets), efficiency, sensory states and relations (to sensed entities), sensory retention, sensory anticipation, affect, and appreciation of individual differences. The scheme can ground explanations of false belief tests that do not require infants or nonhuman animals to use language. After the scheme is explained and applied, it is contrasted with other, superficially similar schemes proposed in the literature—for example, those of Gergely and Csibra, Wellman and Gopnik, Perner and Roessler, Flavell, and Apperly and Butterfill. Better methods for testing are briefly discussed.

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