Vicarious representation: A new theory of social cognition

Cognition 205 (C):104451 (2020)
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Theory of mind, the attribution of mental states to others is one form of social cognition. The aim of this paper is to highlight the importance of another, much simpler, form of social cognition, which I call vicarious representation. Vicarious representation is the attribution of other-centered properties to objects. This mental capacity is different from, and much simpler than, theory of mind as it does not imply the understanding (or representation) of the mental (or even perceptual) states of another agents. I argue that the most convincing experiments that are supposed to show that non-human primates have theory of mind in fact demonstrate that they are capable of vicarious representation. The same is true for the experiments about the theory of mind of infants under 12 months.

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Bence Nanay
University of Antwerp


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