Language Promotes Structural Alignment in the Acquisition of Mentalistic Concepts

Dare A. Baldwin and Megan M. Saylor

in Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195159912
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847150 | DOI:
Language Promotes Structural Alignment in the Acquisition of Mentalistic Concepts

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This chapter suggests that language may facilitate children's acquisition of mentalistic concepts by serving as an aid to analogical reasoning and inductive inference. That is, language invites children to compare different behaviors that otherwise they would not attempt to align, thus promoting inferences about non-obvious commonalities across distinct expressions of mental states, such as belief, desire, attention, and intention. A large body of research suggests that, in the realm of physical objects, infants use information provided in language to draw inferences about non-obvious commonalities. In the realm of mental states, language may function similarly to facilitate children's abstraction of mentalistic concepts. The chapter considers two different aspects of this process. First, it argues that language in general, used in conversation, is intricately linked to mentalistic concerns as it embodies communicative intent and intentional focus, taking into account and attempting to influence the beliefs and desires of the conversational participant. Second, mental terms may act as labels that invite recognition across different behaviors and situations, leading to the development of mentalistic concepts by the abstraction of commonalities across behaviors.

Keywords: language; children; mentalistic concepts; mental states; analogical reasoning; inductive inference; non-obvious commonalities; beliefs; desires

Chapter.  9373 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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