Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

Developmentally distinct systems for processing gaze and theory of mind

Recent exciting work on theory of mind development demonstrates infants’ sensitivity to others’ mental states.1 In this talk I consider whether this is the same ability shown around 4 years in classic theory of mind tasks, or whether there are separate systems for theory of mind processing, analogous to the System 1–System 2 distinction.2 Gaze understanding is considered as a test case: understanding perceptual access is foundational to theory of mind. Gaze following in infancy appears fast and automatic (system 1); gaze judgement is not possible until 3 years3 and appears slow and deliberative (system 2). Data are presented demonstrating that the two gaze abilities rely on different perceptual cues.4 Gaze following employs only the luminance cues in the eye5, whereas gaze judgement employs both luminance and geometric cues:6 objective psychophysical evidence for two systems. Discussion concerns the wider theoretical implications for theory of mind development.