A Two-Systems Theory of Social Cognition

Martin Doherty

in Perception, Causation, and Objectivity

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199692040
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729713 | DOI:

Series: Consciousness & Self-Consciousness Series

A Two-Systems Theory of Social Cognition

Show Summary Details


Developmental research shows that three-year-olds fail explicit theory of mind tasks, yet younger children are sensitive to differences in actors' mental states. Comparably discrepant findings occur with gaze understanding: children cannot judge another's eye-direction until three years but follow gaze from early infancy. Drawing the minimal necessary conclusions from gaze research, I argue that two-year-olds understand social interactions in terms of people's involvements with objects or situations: engagement. This confers considerable social ability without postulating understanding of representational mental states. Subsequent development in gaze understanding co-occurs with explicit theory of mind development, and is discontinuous with earlier development. Four-year-olds develop a novel system for social understanding.

Keywords: joint attention; theory of mind; engagement; attention; gaze following

Chapter.  9449 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.