Pilot studies showed that people were more likely to say that Kevin will believe what he saw rather than what Rebecca told him. Mitchell et al. argued that under these
conditions when there’s no right or wrong answer it may be possible for participants’ own beliefs to distort their judgement of what Kevin would believe. So, in
certain circumstances, we can false belief task ‘failure’ in adults. Does this mean that adults have no theory of mind? Obviously not. Therefore, argue Mitchell et al,
we shouldn’t conclude that children who can be manipulated to fail false belief tasks have no theory of mind either.
Those are the four main challenges to the representational deficit theory and theory theory. We will now look at two other theories which claim that theory of mind is
present from birth: Alan Leslie’s Theory Of Mind Mechanism theory and Peter Mitchell’s Reality Bias theory.
‘Theory’ or Module?
Alan Leslie (1987, 1994, 2000; see also Scholl & Leslie, 1999, 2001) proposed a domain specific learning device, an innate theory of mind module referred to as the
Theory Of Mind Mechanism. Leslie argues that the development of theory of mind is a continuous process and that early task failure is a result of performance
limitations. He supports this assertion with evidence from the literature on autism (more on this in the section on autism).
Older autistic children seem to have a poor understanding of specific aspects of mind, such as false beliefs and the appearance/reality distinction. They are also
believed to have an inborn neurological deficit. Therefore, according to Leslie, there is a specific theory of mind module which is absent in autistic children. More
specifically, Leslie’s explanation involves two components, the theory of mind mechanism and a ‘Selection Processing’ process which inhibits salient, but unwanted,
responses. Leslie argues that typically developing children possess a theory of mind, but that the default response is to judge all beliefs as being true. The lack of
a mature selection processing process means that this default is not inhibited in favour of the false belief judgment.
Mitchell’s Reality Bias
Like Leslie, Peter Mitchell (1997) argues that a theory of mind is a product of evolutionary forces, part of our genetic inheritance and, therefore, innate. He points
out that to be able to understand the intent of your enemy, to be able to engage in deception, and to be able to communicate effectively – which relies on interpreting
the speech of others, which is much more efficient if you have a theory of mind – would give you a huge evolutionary advantage. Thus, if theory of mind is innate, it
must be an ability present in young children. Mitchell argues that, in false belief tasks, children are guided by something that prevents them making correct theory of
mind responses. He calls this the reality criterion and argues that young children are predisposed to follow the reality criterion which takes priority over the theory
of mind criterion.