The claim behind "theory of mind" is that certain core conceptions organize and enable our everyday understanding of the social world. In particular, social cognition is based on thinking of people in terms of their mental states-their beliefs, desires, hopes, goals, and inner feelings. This everyday assumption of mind is powerfiil and constraining. It leads us to try to use the mind and increase its powers, to share inner experiences, to distinguish between purely imaginary and real events, and to interact with other persons by searching for and reaching out to their underlying mentalities. A mentalistic construal of persons is fundamental not only to adults;essential parts of it develop early in childhood. This raises intriguing questions: (1) When do children know what about basic mental-psychological states-intentions, beliefs, desires, emotions? (2) What conceptual progressions or sequences characterize development, for normally developing and delayed individuals? (3) How does change occur: How are these conceptions developed and socio-culturally transmitted;what factors shape understanding;to what extent is a mentalistic construal of persons widespread across cultures vs. lirnited to our society? (4) To what extent are theory of mind understandings specially supported in the brain;how are such brain mechanisms assembled and revised developmentally? The proposed research encompasses multiple interrelated investigations designed to address these questions. The investigations include meta-analytic, conversational, laboratory, and neurophysiological studies that build on and advance my recent related research, and that are designed to answer questions about sequence, change, cultural differences and similarities, and brain bases of our everyday theory of mind. The studies focus especially on infancy and the preschool years, a period of crucial change and transition for theory-of-mind understandings, and a period that establishes foundational conceptual achievements that enable and constrain cognitive development in later childhood and adulthood.

Public Health Relevance

Humans are a social species;understanding and navigating the social world is crucial to soimd cognitive, socio- emotional, and physical health. The current research provides critical information about successful and impaired social understandings and informs intervention and training efforts promoting enhanced social understanding and interactions for infants, toddlers and preschoolers in circumstances of typical and atypical development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (R37)
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Special Emphasis Panel (NSS)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Ann Arbor
United States
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Dunphy-Lelii, Sarah; Labounty, Jennifer; Lane, Jonathan D et al. (2014) The Social Context of Infant Intention Understanding. J Cogn Dev 15:60-77
Brandone, Amanda C; Horwitz, Suzanne R; Aslin, Richard N et al. (2014) Infants' goal anticipation during failed and successful reaching actions. Dev Sci 17:23-34
O'Reilly, Karin; Peterson, Candida C; Wellman, Henry M (2014) Sarcasm and advanced theory of mind understanding in children and adults with prelingual deafness. Dev Psychol 50:1862-77
Lane, Jonathan D; Harris, Paul L; Gelman, Susan A et al. (2014) More than meets the eye: young children's trust in claims that defy their perceptions. Dev Psychol 50:865-71
Rhodes, Marjorie; Wellman, Henry (2013) Constructing a new theory from old ideas and new evidence. Cogn Sci 37:592-604
Peterson, Candida C; Wellman, Henry M; Slaughter, Virginia (2012) The mind behind the message: advancing theory-of-mind scales for typically developing children, and those with deafness, autism, or Asperger syndrome. Child Dev 83:469-85
Dunphy-Lelii, Sarah; Wellman, Henry M (2012) Delayed Self Recognition in Autism: A Unique Difficulty? Res Autism Spectr Disord 6:212-223
Wellman, Henry M; Fang, Fuxi; Peterson, Candida C (2011) Sequential progressions in a theory-of-mind scale: longitudinal perspectives. Child Dev 82:780-92
Wellman, Henry M; Lane, Jonathan D; LaBounty, Jennifer et al. (2011) Observant, nonaggressive temperament predicts theory of mind development. Dev Sci 14:319-26
Lane, Jonathan D; Wellman, Henry M; Olson, Sheryl L et al. (2010) Theory of mind and emotion understanding predict moral development in early childhood. Br J Dev Psychol 28:871-89

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