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Candidate Number: B00527

Degree: BA Psychology & Philosophy

Module Code & Title: PH317 Philosophy of Psychology

Essay Title: Should the Theory-Theory and Simulation-Theory


of Mindreading be Integrated?

Word Count: 3,819

Heythrop College, University of London

May 2008

Should the Theory-Theory and Simulation-Theory of Mindreading be

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Integrated?

There has been much debate in recent years1 over how exactly
people are able to predict the actions of others with the success that they
do. Two major competing theories have come out of this debate, theory-
theory (TT) and simulation-theory (ST). The theories are based on naturally
opposed categories of processes, theory and simulation, and as such many
philosophers and psychologists are reluctant to allow that both can occur
within the human mind. However, neither camp has been able to
successfully refute the other, as both can fully explain the inability of
young children to predict behaviour with consistent success and neither
can fully explain how older children and adults can predict all the sorts of
actions or reactions in others that they can. In reality there are many
arguments in favour of people having both abilities; thus it seems that they
must be integrated in order to fully explain how people can consistently
successfully predict the actions of others. Therefore this essay shall go into
some detail about how the systems work, but the focus shall remain the
integration the two theories; this essay does not attempt to provide a
comprehensive analysis of either theory. Instead this essay hopes to show
that human beings have the capacity to predict via both TT and ST, and
that our predictions of actions that cannot be explained by TT can be
explained by ST, and vice versa.
The difference between theory-theory and simulation-theory is best
illustrated using an airplane example borrowed from Stich and Nichols
(1992); if someone wanted to predict how an airplane would behave under
certain flying conditions they could either work out what the plane would
do on paper using theory, or alternatively build a model plane, place it in a
wind tunnel and observe its behaviours. Whilst both methods in this
example require some appeal to theory, there is an obvious difference in
that theory is central to the first method and simulation to the second.
However, there is a key difference between the airplane example and
simulation-theory of prediction; the simulation method in the example
requires appeal to theory because there is no real plane to observe, in
order to create the model the experimenter must rely on some stored
information or theory about planes. Conversely, in the case of predicting
the behaviour of others, every human being does have ‘a real, human

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cognitive system to observe’ already, their own. Thus, aside from the
premise that each persons mind works in a broadly similar way, there is no
need to appeal to an internal theory in ST.
Josef Perner (1996; pp.92-3) provides a fine pair of schemas that
further articulate TT, ST, and the difference between them. The ‘predictor’
is asked (‘on a sunny day’) how a person would react to being followed by
a ‘seedy’ character in a dark alleyway; here replicated in full:
For TT:
“RbA-1. ASSUMING: I am in the dark alley situation.
RbA-2. REASONING: If I am in this situation I believe that the person is
going to mug me.
REASONING: If I believe I am going to be mugged by someone I feel
frightened by that person.
REASONING: If I feel frightened by someone coming from behind I
tend to quicken my pace and eventually run.
RbA-3. REASONING BY ANALOGY: Since my psychological make-up is
similar to any typical person I conclude that anyone will feel and
react as reasoned in 2.”

This is clearly not simulation, as the predictor is using knowledge, or


theories, about how his own mind works, assuming that others minds work
in a similar way and thus predicting the actions of the other by attributing
to the other the actions they believe they would perform themselves in
such a situation.
For ST:
“SIM-1. IDENTIFYING with other by shifting egocentric frames.
IMAGINING being in the dark alley situation.
SIM-2. PRETENDING2 TO BELIEVE that the person is going to mug me.
TO FEEL frightened by the man.
TO WANT to run away from the man.
TO FEEL like running (and showing signs of running).
TO KNOW that I shall run.
SIM-3. CLASSIFYING REACTIONS directly by introspection or indirectly
through
ascent routines, e.g. ‘wanting to run away’.
DE-IDENTIFYING by recentering my egocentric frame to myself.

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ATTRIBUTING classified reactions to other: ‘other feels like running’.”

This schema is clearly simulation, and serves to further articulate the


process of simulation itself, SIM-2, by breaking it up into five steps of
simulating the belief of the other, then articulating the emotion felt and the
desire that comes from that emotion, which leads to knowledge of the
most likely action to predict. The schema also nicely captures off-lineness
as the word PRETENDING represents the barrier between the simulated
emotions and the action(s) that would occur if the situation were real
rather than hypothetical.
This schema of simulation is (indirectly) described by Stich and
Nichols (1997; pp.304) as ‘pretense-driven-off-line-simulation’. This kind of
simulation can theoretically occur in any mental processing system that
has intentional states as inputs and mental states as outputs (Stich &
Nichols, 1997). However, as Heal points out (1996; pp.56-7), ‘to argue that
such simulation is possible assumes that there are such systems
underlying every kind of psychological state and that these systems can be
run ‘off-line’’. Stich and Nichols (1997) further develop this concern into
two. The first is that we cannot simply assume that mental states are
subserved by such systems; the second is that such underlying systems
exist for all mental states and can be understood in general terms. These
concerns shall not be directly addressed here; the only have bearing on the
question in that they strongly suggest that ST cannot be used to explain a
persons ability to predict all the different kinds of actions in response to all
the different types of situation or emotion that they can.
So, having described the two theories, they shall first be considered
in terms of development. One method of discerning how theory of mind
works concerns looking at individuals that have not yet acquired a fully
developed theory of mind, children under around 4 years of age, and the
systematic errors they make. It is possible to work out what such young
children base their predictions on and thus, theoretically, what capacities
they must develop in order to be able to successfully predict action. The
false belief task is the best example of such experimental research; it has
taken many different forms in the literature but was originally performed
by Wimmer and Perner in 1983. In their experiment, the children were put
into groups of 3-4, 4-6 and 6-9 years of age and a scene was played out in

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front of them using dolls and matchboxes3. In the scene, a boy called maxi
comes home from shopping with his mother, and is asked by her to put the
chocolate in a blue cupboard (represented by a matchbox). The boy then
goes out to play, and the mother begins to make a cake. During her
baking, she takes the chocolate out of the blue cupboard, and puts in into
the green cupboard (represented by another matchbox), after this she
realizes that she forgot to buy eggs, and goes to see a neighbor in order to
borrow some. Finally, Maxi returns to the scene and the participant child is
asked where he will look for the chocolate. A memory question, ‘do you
remember where maxi put the chocolate?’, and a reality question ‘where is
the chocolate really’ were posed to the child if needed in order to ensure
that the child was basing their predictions of action upon their own or
maxis beliefs rather than misunderstanding of the situation. For the main
question, the 6-9 year old group consistently correctly answered the blue
cupboard, indicating that they understood the concept of false belief and
thus were able to attribute false beliefs to others and base predictions of
action on such false beliefs. The 4-6 year old group answered correctly
57% of the time, slightly above chance, which indicates that whilst some
may have the concept of false belief most did not. The youngest group
consistently incorrectly answered the green cupboard, which indicates that
they did not understand that others can hold false beliefs, or indeed beliefs
that differ from their own, and as such cannot base predictions of action
upon such beliefs. The memory and reality questions were answered
correctly on all the occasions that they were posed.
However, both TT and ST appear to explain this phenomenon fully
(Taken from Wyss, 2008). TT explains it as in order to understand that
others can have false beliefs the participant child must have thoughts of
the general form ‘X (another person) believes that p’; in this case Maxi
believes that the chocolate is in the blue cupboard. In order to hold such
theoretic thoughts, the participant child must have more than the ability to
hold beliefs; they must understand the concept of belief and thus must
have acquired some sort of psychological theory through developed
information processing systems. Equally, ST can explain the phenomenon
by positing that the participant child only requires thoughts like ‘I believe
that p’, but must also have the ability to imaginatively identify with Maxi
and imagine themselves in his situation. In this case the participant child

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only needs the ability to hold beliefs rather than full understanding of the
concept of belief. However, the ability to imagine oneself in another’s
situation is a skill that must be developed first. In both cases, the theories
argue that the young children in the experiment have not yet developed
the required abilities, and thus fail the task. It is clear from this that
experimental evidence from development does not provide arguments in
favour of one theory over the other4.
Thus having discussed some experimental evidence for the theories,
albeit briefly, more empirical evidence for the integration of the theories
shall be considered. Both TT and ST have a similar epistemological status
as both theories are equally well grounded in empirical evidence. Taking an
example of gas cylinders (Davies & Stone, 1998; pp.62), predicting how
much the volume of gas in a cylinder will expand when heated by a certain
amount can be performed either by simulation or by working through
theory. In a similar way that the change in volume can be predicted using
pen, paper and testable theories based on observations, TT uses a
multitude of testable hypotheses that have been deduced from
observation to make predictions; here the empirical grounding of TT is
obvious as it is by its very nature based on empirical evidence. In terms of
simulation, one could take another similar cylinder filled with a similar gas
and heat it by the specified amount, measure the change in volume and
predict the behaviour of the first cylinder based on this experiment; in a
similar way to TT, ST is also grounded in empirical observation, only the
observation is of internal thought experiments rather than external
phenomena. Thus neither theory is epistemologically preferable to the
other.
Furthermore, the airplane example used above to illustrate the
fundamental difference between TT and ST itself lends support to the idea
that people have the ability to predict by both methods. Surely if the
difference between the two can be so well articulated in a practical
metaphor, it follows that it is likely that our abilities mirror such an analogy.
Therefore, it seems to follow that if we can predict the outcomes of certain
physical events by both simulation or through theory, it is likely that we
can predict the actions of others both through simulation and by use of
theory. Whilst this is a rather ad hoc argument in favour of integration, it
serves to support the others and it is interesting that the example certainly

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does not produce any arguments to the contrary.


Finally, the human ability to empathise lends strong support to the
existence of the human ability to simulate.5 Empathizing consists of the
internal creation of emotions based on imaginary situations; therefore
there must be a mechanism within the brain that enables the creation of
such emotions based on such situations. Thus, as it is indubitable that
humans the capacity to simulate, and that such a mechanism could be
used to predict the actions of others, we must in fact use this mechanism
to predict the actions of others. This is backed up by the fact that a person
can empathise in different ways, say that someone heard that a friends
house had been burned down by an arsonist, through empathetic
simulation of emotion they would be able to understand that the
unfortunate individual feels scared of the crazy arsonist whilst only feeling
anger towards him themselves.
Whether the arguments of Stich, Nichols and Heal6 can be shown to
agree, at least in part, that the two theories can and should be integrated
shall now be considered. Stich and Nichols state in their 1997 that ‘in
deriving a prediction [based on simulation], the mechanism integrates this
information with the ceteris paribus laws and the list of special cases’
(pp.309). Surely these ceteris paribus laws and list of special cases must
come out of an internal theory based on empirical evidence rather than
simulation. For example, I myself am a big fan of the musical genre of
metal, but I know from experience that most people, especially the elderly,
are not. Thus, if I am presented with a piece of metal music that I
particularly enjoy, and am asked to predict what my grandmother would
feel about it if she heard it, I surely would find it very difficult to predict
correctly that she wouldn’t via simulation; I would be able to predict the
reaction of someone with a similar musical taste to mine by simulation, but
in order to successfully predict her reaction I would have to integrate my
simulation with the list of ceteris paribus laws (that the elderly don’t like
the genre) and the list of special cases (my concrete knowledge that my
grandmother does not like the genre). I could then successfully predict that
she would not like it based solely on observation rather than simulation,
my theory that the elderly are not fans of heavy or aggressive music, or
my concrete knowledge that my grandmother is not. Thus it can be clearly
seen how an integration of both methods of prediction enables us to make

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much more accurate predictions of the actions of people who differ


psychologically from ourselves, predictions that we do successfully perform
everyday.
Stich & Nichols also argue in their 1997 that pretense-driven-off-line-
simulation must be used to predict the beliefs that TT requires in order to
predict actions, and further that this is an ‘easy victory’ (pp.309) that
suggests that ‘the line between theory-theory and simulation-theory had
been drawn in the wrong place. But we don't think there is any better place
to draw it’ (pp.309). However, bearing in mind that Stich and Nichols also
concede that ‘some mental mechanisms or processes can be exploited in
one or another kind of mental simulation process, while other mechanisms
or processes cannot, either because they have no access to pretend inputs
or because they cannot process pretend inputs’ (pp.308) it seems that
there is no victory here, and need to draw a line. Indeed, there appears to
be no arguments in the literature that show that a line does need to be
drawn, the need seems to be a mere assumption based on the arguably
irrelevant fact that TT and ST rely on fundamentally different processes. TT
cannot explain how we can predict the beliefs required to predict action
without appeal to ST, and there are many other types of mental state that
ST cannot predict without appeal to TT; thus, in order to explain how
people can predict the full range of actions that they can, both theories
must be supported as working in tandem with each other.
Heal concedes that ‘no simulationist should claim that every
prediction about another psychological states… could be arrived at by
simulation’ (Heal, 1996; pp.55). She gives an example of predicting how
someone will feel after drinking a pint of whisky, and argues that we
clearly cannot simulate the effects by imagining drinking a pint of whiskey,
waiting five minutes and seeing how we feel. Heal argues that this
example can be used to define the ‘domain’ of simulation in certain
respects as it shows that simulation cannot be used to predict outcomes
based on bodily states. However, we are still able to predict such
outcomes, albeit with limited success or specificity. This requires a theory
gained from empirical observation, either of ourselves or others; for
example we can predict that five minutes after drinking a pint of whiskey
the subject will most likely either feel very sick or very happy because we
hold a theory that high levels of alcohol in the blood can lead to such

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feelings.
Heal goes on to define the domain of simulation further, arguing
that simulation can only predict outcomes where ‘(a) the starting point is
an item or collection of items with [mental] content, (b) the outcome is a
further item with content, and (c) the latter content is rationally or
intelligibly linked to that of the earlier item(s)’. To put it another way,
simulation can only occur when the inputs and outputs can be represented
fully within the mind and follow from one another. Thus, it is clear that
different system must be used in order to predict the actions of others
where the causes and outcome are not fully mentally representable or
when an irrational response is predicted. As argued above, such
predictions can be performed using a theory, and as such predictions are
performed in everyday life it seems clear that TT and ST must co-exist as
methods of prediction.
In remembering a previous experience we can either play it over in
our head as a visualization or remember it in words as a story, indeed,
often both occur simultaneously. Similarly, when predicting the actions of
others, we can either use lawlike generalizations that can exist only as
words, or simulations that can only exist as internal ‘visualisations’7. Often
both methods are required to produce a satisfactory prediction, if we
combine the arson and whiskey examples used above to ask what
someone would feel if their house had burned down and they had just
downed a pint of whiskey in order to drown their sorrows, we would have to
predict via ST not TT that they would feel very upset, and TT not ST to
predict further that they would probably not really care that much. Once
they had sobered up, we would again predict via ST not TT that they would
feel sad, and via TT not ST to predict further that they would probably be
feeling much worse due to a heavy hangover. In both cases, the
predictions solely made via ST would have been reasonable, but not
necessarily very accurate8.
There have been no conclusive arguments against positing that
prediction of the actions of others is performed by people via both
methods; indeed there are many arguments in favour of such a view. It is
clear that several of the examples used in this essay can be explained by
appeal to either TT or ST, and whilst this is in itself not a good argument
for their integration, the fact that other examples can be explained by only

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one or other of them clearly is; the interchangeability of the two in these
cases only serves to highlight their symbiotic nature. Furthermore, Stich,
Nichols and Heal themselves find it hard not to concede that it is possible
or in fact extremely likely firstly that the line between the two theories has
been drawn in the wrong place, and secondly that such a line should be
drawn at all. To conclude, it seems clear that integrating TT and ST fully in
order to explain how human beings can predict the actions of other human
beings with such success can be done and should be done.

1
Most notably the continuing correspondence between Heal, Stich and Nichols; with other
important contributions from Alvin Goldman, Martin Davis and Tony Stone amongst others.
2
There are those that would argue that this is not strictly speaking simulation as the
contents of SIM-2 concern themselves directly with mental states. The alternative posited
by Perner is to change the categories of SIM-2 such that they read PRETEND-BELIEVING,
PRETEND-FEELING etc. However, as Perner himself notes, this appears to be a ‘linguistic
trick’ (Perner, 1996; pp.93) as the difference between pretend-believing and pretending to
believe is surely purely semantic and irrelevant to the question at hand.

3
This is the ‘cooperative’ version of the experiment taken from the write-up, there was also
a ‘competitive’ version, however the implications of the results were the same in both so
only one is considered here.

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4
This is quite a generalization as there is unfortunately not enough space here to explore
this point fully, but this is not detrimental to the argument.
5
The ability to generate predictions based on theories shall not be justified here as it is
clearly an ability inherent to humans.
6
The major leaders in the field of theory of mind.
7
To use the term broadly.
8
It is important to note here that the predictions made via ST in the example could have
been made by TT, it is surely possible to hold a theory that people feel sad after their
houses have been burned down; however, if the predictor had never had their own house
burned down, or observed the reactions of someone who had, they would surely have to
predict a feeling of sadness via ST.

Bibliography:
Davies, M. & Stone, T. (1998). ‘Folk Psychology and Mental Simulation’ In O’Hear, A (ed.)
Current Issues in Philosophy of Mind; pp.53-82. Cambridge University Press.
Heal, J. (1996). ‘Simulation and Cognitive Penetrability.’ Mind and Language, Vol.11,
pp.44-67. Blackwell.
Perner. J. (1996). ‘Simulation as Explication of Prediction- Implicit Knowledge About the
Mind: Arguments for a Simulation-Theory Mix’ In Caruthers, P. & Smith, P. (eds.) Theories of
Theories of Mind; pp.90-104. Cambridge University Press.
Stich, S & Nichols, S. (1992). ‘Folk Psychology: Simulation or Tacit Theory?’ Mind &
Language; Vol.7, pp 35-71. Blackwell.
Stich, S & Nichols, S. (1997). ‘Cognitive Penetrability, Rationality and Restricted
Simulation.’ Mind & Language; Vol.12, pp.297-326. Blackwell.
Wimmer, H & Perner, J. (1983). ‘Beliefs About Beliefs: Representation and Constraining
function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception.’ Cognition; Vol.13,
pp. 103-128. Elsevier Science B.V.
Wyss, P. (2008). ‘Mind Reading: Introduction.’ Philosophy of Psychology Course Notes.
Heythrop Helios.

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