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

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Author Info

  • Erik O. Kimbrough

    (Dept. of Economics, Simon Fraser University)

  • Nikolaus Robalino

    (Dept. of Economics, Simon Fraser University)

  • Arthur J. Robson

    (Dept. of Economics, Simon Fraser University)

Abstract

This paper investigates the 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. Our notion of ``Theory of Mind'' (ToM) yields a sharp, unambiguous advantage over less sophisticated approaches to strategic interaction because agents with ToM extrapolate to novel circumstances information about opponents' preferences that was learned previously. We then report on experiments investigating ToM in a simpler version of the theoretical model. We find highly significant learning of opponents' preferences, providing strong evidence for the presence of ToM as in our model in the subjects. Moreover, scores on standard measures of autism-spectrum behaviors are significant determinants of individual speeds of learning, so our notion of ToM is significantly correlated with theory of mind as in psychology.

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File URL: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d19a/d1907-r.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1908R.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2013
Date of revision: Jan 2014
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1907r

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Keywords: Evolution; Theory of mind;

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Vincent P. Crawford & Nagore Iriberri, 2006. "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 321307000000000256, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Jacob K. Goeree & Thomas R. Palfrey & Brian W. Rogers & Richard D. McKelvey, 2006. "Self-Correcting Information Cascades," Levine's Bibliography 321307000000000211, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt3d04q5sm, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  6. Mohlin, Erik, 2010. "Evolution of Theories of Mind," Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 0728, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 12 May 2010.
  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. 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.
  9. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-55, December.
  10. Arthur J. Robson & Hillard S. Kaplan, 2003. "The Evolution of Human Life Expectancy and Intelligence in Hunter-Gatherer Economies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 150-169, March.
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