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

Author

Listed:
  • 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 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Erik O. Kimbrough & Nikolaus Robalino & Arthur J. Robson, 2013. "The Evolution of 'Theory of Mind': Theory and Experiments," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1908, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1907
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    File URL: http://cowles.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/pub/d19/d1907.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
    2. Vincent P. Crawford & Nagore Iriberri, 2007. "Level-k Auctions: Can a Nonequilibrium Model of Strategic Thinking Explain the Winner's Curse and Overbidding in Private-Value Auctions?," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(6), pages 1721-1770, November.
    3. 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.
    4. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-955, December.
    5. Mohlin, Erik, 2012. "Evolution of theories of mind," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 299-318.
    6. 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.
    7. Jacob K. Goeree & Thomas R. Palfrey & Brian W. Rogers & Richard D. McKelvey, 2007. "Self-Correcting Information Cascades," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(3), pages 733-762.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. Camerer, Colin F. & Ho, Teck-Hua & Chong, Juin-Kuan, 2002. "Sophisticated Experience-Weighted Attraction Learning and Strategic Teaching in Repeated Games," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 104(1), pages 137-188, May.
    11. 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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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Heller, Yuval & Mohlin, Erik, 2014. "Coevolution of Deception and Preferences: Darwin and Nash Meet Machiavelli," MPRA Paper 58255, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Nikolaus Robalino & Arthur Robson, 2016. "The Evolution of Strategic Sophistication," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(4), pages 1046-1072, April.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Evolution; Theory of mind;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • C7 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory

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