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Reviving pragmatic theory of theory of mind

1 School of Psychology, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
2 Center for Cognition and Communication, New York, NY, USA

Theory of Mind (ToM) refers to the ability to attribute mental states to self and others. It has been debated whether or not language capacity precedes ToM in development. Evidence from both neurological and developmental studies suggested that while linguistic capacity is important for ToM understanding, pragmatic component, which is a non-structural part of language, is more important for ToM. Moreover, given that pragmatic component of language is subserved by the right hemisphere of the brain, the evidence also indicates a significant overlap between the neural basis of ToM and that of pragmatic comprehension. The pragmatic theory of ToM, which I aim to revive in this review, firmly links pragmatics to ToM. It regards pragmatic aspects of language and ToM as extensively overlapping functions. I argue that research results from both developmental and neurological studies of ToM are beginning to converge to support this theory. Furthermore, I maintain that the pragmatic theory of ToM provides the best explanation for the seemingly incongruent results from recent child and infant studies on the developmental trajectory of ToM. Lastly, I will discuss whether this theory is in agreement with the domain-specific, the nativist framework, or neither.
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Keywords theory of mind; pragmatics; language; right-hemisphere damage; brain imaging; false-belief; domain-specificity

Citation: Chiyoko Kobayashi Frank. Reviving pragmatic theory of theory of mind. AIMS Neuroscience, 2018, 5(2): 116-131. doi: 10.3934/Neuroscience.2018.2.116

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