Theory of Animal Mind: Human Nature or Experimental Artefact?

Caroline E Spence, Magda Osman, Alan G McElligott

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Are animals capable of empathy, problem-solving, or even self-recognition? Much research is dedicated to answering these questions and yet few studies have considered how humans form beliefs about animal minds. Evidence suggests that our mentalising of animals is a natural consequence of Theory of Mind (ToM) capabilities. However, where beliefs regarding animal mind have been investigated, there has been slow progress in establishing the mechanism underpinning how this is achieved. Here, we consider what conclusions can be drawn regarding how people theorise about animal minds and the different conceptual and methodological issues that might limit the accuracy of conclusions currently drawn from this work. We suggest a new empirical framework for better capturing the human theory of animal mind, which in turn has significant political and social implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-343
JournalTrends in cognitive sciences
Issue number5
Early online date27 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


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