The cognitive developmental investigation of the attribution of privileged access to mental states  [presentation, ppt, 76 kB]

Kiss S.
University of Pécs, Institute of Psychology, Pécs, Hungary

Research on mindreading is one of the central topics of present-day cognitive science. Within this research, children’s thinking about the mind is especially important. The present paper will be about the relationship of the so-called ideal speech situation developed by Habermas and the child’s theory of mind. First, the ideal speech situation will be analyzed, showing the importance of the ascription of privileged access to mental states. Then, the history of first person authority within general psychology, social psychology and cognitive developmental psychology will be presented. One of the conclusions of this historical presentation is that within adult folk psychology we often ascribe privileged access to intentional states when we interpret other people’s behavior. The paper will show how we operationalized the ideal speech situation of the universal pragmatics of Habermas. In a word, we naturalize this philosophical concept. The notion of the ideal speech situation will be investigated from the point of view of contemporary empirical theory-of-mind research. Then I raise two questions: When and how does the child acquire the notion of the ideal speech situation? I will show a cognitive developmental experiment which aimed to answer the above questions. During the experiment we used a modified version of the classic theory-of-mind task developed by Bartsch and Wellman. In this task, the child has to infer the mental states from the action of a protagonist. Then we tested whether the child could select the main character on the basis of his first person verbal report. We argued that if the child was able to do this then he attributed first person authority to the character. Finally, the task analysis of our experiment will be presented. It is suggested that the acquisition of the ideal speech situation is related to the imaginative abilities of children, particularly to his or her capability to participate in imaginative conversations