A Two-Systems Theory of Social Cognition
Engagement and Theory of Mind
Developmental research shows that three-year-olds fail explicit theory of mind tasks, yet younger children are sensitive to differences in actors' mental states. Comparably discrepant findings occur with gaze understanding: children cannot judge another's eye-direction until three years but follow gaze from early infancy. Drawing the minimal necessary conclusions from gaze research, I argue that two-year-olds understand social interactions in terms of people's involvements with objects or situations: engagement. This confers considerable social ability without postulating understanding of representational mental states. Subsequent development in gaze understanding co-occurs with explicit theory of mind development, and is discontinuous with earlier development. Four-year-olds develop a novel system for social understanding.
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