Stereotypes, theory of mind, and the action–prediction hierarchy

Synthese 196 (7):2821-2846 (2019)
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Both mindreading and stereotyping are forms of social cognition that play a pervasive role in our everyday lives, yet too little attention has been paid to the question of how these two processes are related. This paper offers a theory of the influence of stereotyping on mental-state attribution that draws on hierarchical predictive coding accounts of action prediction. It is argued that the key to understanding the relation between stereotyping and mindreading lies in the fact that stereotypes centrally involve character-trait attributions, which play a systematic role in the action–prediction hierarchy. On this view, when we apply a stereotype to an individual, we rapidly attribute to her a cluster of generic character traits on the basis of her perceived social group membership. These traits are then used to make inferences about that individual’s likely beliefs and desires, which in turn inform inferences about her behavior.

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Evan Westra
Purdue University


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