Theory of mind

Introduction
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By Alia Martin PhD

Theory of mind refers to the cognitive ability to make inferences about others’ mental states (eg, beliefs, intentions, and desires) and use them to understand and predict behavior. Theory of mind plays a central role in human social interactions. In this clinical summary, Dr. Martin of the Yale University Psychology Department explains how the concept has emerged and reviews ongoing research into the cognitive mechanisms and neurophysiological bases underlying theory of mind, relations between theory of mind and other cognitive abilities, and clinical applications.

Key Points

  • Theory of mind is a cognitive process that refers to the ability to make inferences about others’ mental states.
  • Theory of mind plays a central role in human social interactions.
  • Findings from imaging and lesion studies indicate that theory of mind reasoning is supported by a widely distributed neural system.
  • Research on theory of mind has opened new windows into understanding the neuropathological bases of psychiatric and neurologic disorders in which social cognitive and theory of mind skills may be specifically impaired.

In This Article

Introduction
Historical note and nomenclature
Description
Clinical applications
References cited
Contributors