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The Evolution of 'Theory of Mind': Theory and Experiments

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  • Erik O. Kimbrough
  • Nikolaus Robalino
  • Arthur J. Robson

Abstract

This paper provides an evolutionary foundation for our capacity to attribute preferences to others. This ability is intrinsic to game theory, and is a key component of "Theory of Mind", perhaps the capstone of social cognition. We argue here that this component of theory of mind allows organisms to efficiently modify their behavior in strategic environments with a persistent element of novelty. Such environments are represented here by multistage games of perfect information with randomly chosen outcomes. "Theory of Mind" then yields a sharp, unambiguous advantage over less sophisticated, behavioral approaches to strategic interaction. In related experiments, we show the subscale for social skills in standard tests for autism is a highly significant determinant of the speed of learning in such games.

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Paper provided by David K. Levine in its series Levine's Working Paper Archive with number 786969000000000735.

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Date of creation: 19 Sep 2013
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Handle: RePEc:cla:levarc:786969000000000735

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  1. Vincent P. Crawford & Nagore Iriberri, 2005. "Level-k Auctions: Can a Non-Equilibrium Model of Strategic Thinking Explain the Winner's Curse and Overbidding in Private-Value Auctions?," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000604, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt4qz9k8vg, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  3. Mohlin, Erik, 2012. "Evolution of theories of mind," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 299-318.
  4. McCabe, Kevin A. & Rassenti, Stephen J. & Smith, Vernon L., 1998. "Reciprocity, Trust, and Payoff Privacy in Extensive Form Bargaining," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 24(1-2), pages 10-24, July.
  5. Goeree, Jacob & Palfrey, Thomas & Rogers, Brian & McKelvey, Richard, 2004. "Self-correcting Information Cascades," Working Papers 1197, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  6. Daniel T. Knoepfle & Joseph Tao-yi Wang & Colin F. Camerer, 2009. "Studying Learning in Games Using Eye-Tracking," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 388-398, 04-05.
  7. McCabe, Kevin A. & Rigdon, Mary L. & Smith, Vernon L., 2003. "Positive reciprocity and intentions in trust games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 52(2), pages 267-275, October.
  8. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-55, December.
  9. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "Why Would Nature Give Individuals Utility Functions?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 900-929, August.
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