Theory of mind

Introduction
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By Francois Muller MD

Theory of mind is a cognitive process that refers to the ability to make inferences about others’ mental states (beliefs, intentions, and desires) and use them to understand and predict others’ behaviors. It has been suggested that theory of mind plays an important role in determining social behavior. In this clinical article, Dr. Muller of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center La Tour de Gassies in Bruges, France, explains how the concept has emerged and reviews neurophysiological bases, 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.
  • It has been suggested that theory of mind plays an important role in determining social behavior.
  • 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.