Spontaneous Theory of Mind is reduced for nonhuman-like agents as compared to human-like agents
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.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Bardi, L., Desmet, C., Nijhof, A., Wiersema, J. R., & Brass, M. (2017a). Brain activation for spontaneous and explicit false belief tasks overlaps: new fMRI evidence on belief processing and violation of expectation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12, 391–400.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar