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Infants track mental state of others
May 13, 2018, 4:43 pm
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The notion that infants can accurately track other people’s beliefs and know their mental states has been buttressed by a new study from the University of Illinois.

Researchers at the university showed that when seven-month-old infants viewed videos of an actor who saw, or failed to see, an object being moved to a new location, they had changing activities in a brain region known to play a role in processing others’ beliefs, just like adults watching the same videos.

This suggests that the infant brain, like that of adults, may distinguish when others hold true and false beliefs, said the researchers.

Using the same brain-imaging methodology of looking at activity in the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ), a brain region thought to play a role in theory of mind, aided by an emerging technology called near-infrared spectroscopy, a method that allows infants to sit on their parents’ lap and watch whatever presented to them with just a specific cap to capture their brain activity in the TPJ, the researchers found the TPJ in infants responds very similarly to that of adults when viewing different video scenarios.

The researchers said that the infants, like the adults, had an uptick in activity in the TPJ when watching a scenario where the actor failed to observe where the puppet put the toy and, therefore, held a false belief about the location of the toy.

However, they added that the new findings do not suggest that infants have a fully developed theory of mind in the first year of life. This simply provides a foundation for developing a deeper understanding of other people’s thoughts and beliefs, said the team behind the research study.

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