Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Theory of Mind (ToM) - Analysis of the integrative potential of a cognitive capacity

Date: April 3 - 4, 2008

Organizers: Nicole C. Krämer (Duisburg-Essen), Kai Vogeley (Köln)

In this workshop ten international researchers discussed the integrative potential of the cognitive capacity called 'Theory of Mind'. The human ability to infer mental states of other people-also referred to as 'Theory of Mind' (ToM) or 'mindreading' or 'mentalizing'-is a basic prerequisite for any behavior that is involved in communication and interaction with other persons. The term 'Theory of Mind' (ToM) was coined by Premack and Woodruff as they referred to the ability to explain and predict the actions, both of oneself, and of other intelligent agents. ToM is the ability to see other entities as intentional agents, whose behavior is influenced by states, beliefs, desires etc. and the knowledge that other humans wish, feel, know or believe something. In recent years, ToM has been discussed as a basic prerequisite for human-human interaction and various alternative terms have been established: Mentalising, mindreading and intentional stance all basically refer to the same ability. Actually, a wide range of disciplines realizes that this 'Theory of Mind' is a central human attribute and various disciplines including psychology, philosophy, and cognitive neurosciences consider this cognitive capacity both from a conceptual and empirical stance. Within recent years, the 'Theory of Mind' assumptions have expanded into several application areas: Its fruitfulness for clinical psychology and communication research has been highlighted. Moreover, the successful implementation of 'Theory of Mind' within multi-agent systems, robots and embodied agents has been demonstrated. Other potential application areas started to utilize theory of mind, such as economics.
The workshop approached the concept of theory of mind from different perspectives and discussed its integrative potential as a non-disciplinary meta-theory and possible areas of application. The 'Theory of Mind' experts from different disciplines and several application fields (such as clinical research, robotics/agent research, communication research and economics) presented their own as well as related research in 30-minute presentations each followed by 30 minutes of discussion. During the discussion, especially the reciprocal benefit of basic and applied research became apparent. Computational models of ToM as developed in agent research or robotics might inform basic research and help to build realistic models of this human capacity.

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