Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 7, pp 1571–1580 | Cite as

Spontaneous Theory of Mind is reduced for nonhuman-like agents as compared to human-like agents

  • Lara BardiEmail author
  • Charlotte Desmet
  • Marcel Brass
Original Article


Theory of Mind research has shown that we spontaneously take into account other’s beliefs. In the current study, we investigate, with a spontaneous Theory of Mind (ToM) task, if this belief representation also applies to nonhuman-like agents. In a series of three experiments, we show here that we do not spontaneously take into account beliefs of nonhuman-like others, or at least we do it to a lesser extent than for human and human-like agents. Further, the experience we have with the other agent, in our case a dog, does not modulate spontaneous ToM: the same pattern of results was obtained when dog owners and no owners were compared. However, when more attention was attracted to the dog behavior, participants’ behavior was influenced by the beliefs of the dog. In sum, spontaneous belief representation seems to be primarily restricted to human and human-like agents, but can be facilitated when more attention is drawn to a nonhuman-like agent.



This study was funded by FP7 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship to Lara Bardi (GRANT 331323-Mirroring and ToM).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Author LB declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author CD declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author MB declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (M4V 935 KB)
426_2018_1000_MOESM2_ESM.m4v (1.1 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (M4V 1092 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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