Friday, July 6, 2012

Keynote 4: Perner

Friday, July 6 2012 09:15-10:30 @ Dome theatre

Keynote 3: "Infants’ Sensitivity to Others’ Belief: Unconscious Theory of Mind?"

Josef Perner (University of Salzburg, Austria)


At Sussex we (Clements & Perner 1994) discovered a dissociation. A majority of three year old children anticipate in their looking that an agent, who didn’t witness an object’s unexpected transfer to a new location will mistakenly return to the object’s original place. In contrast, when these children are asked where the agent will go to get the object, they adamantly claim that she will go to where the object actually is. Subsequent studies indicated that the dissociation is not one of explicit considerations between certain and uncertain possibilities (Ruffman et al 2001) and that not one between verbal and nonverbal measures. It also affects action responses that are given spontaneously and those that are given hesitantly. These results provided an analogy to the availability of unconscious (implicit) and conscious (explicit) knowledge in studies with blindsight patients and healthy adults with illusory stimuli and, thus, evidence for unconscious knowledge of a mistaken agent’s future action.

This dissociation has gained new relevance with reports that infants as young as 14 months (Onishi & Baillargeon 2005, and many studies since) or even 7 months (Kovács et al 2010) show similar sensitivity to belief in their looking and other spontaneous responses. Although the dissociation between spontaneous and deliberate responding has affinity with the distinction between unconscious and conscious knowledge, we have no good understanding what leaves the one un- and makes the other conscious. I will elaborate the idea that spontaneous responding is based on abstraction of behavioural regularities, which may be causally shallow (behaviour rules) or deep (belief formation), while deliberate responding is based on understanding the agent’s reasons for acting.

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