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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 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Erik O. Kimbrough & Nikolaus Robalino & Arthur J. Robson, 2013. "The Evolution of 'Theory of Mind': Theory and Experiments," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1908R, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Jan 2014.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1907r
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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. 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. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-955, December.
    4. Mohlin, Erik, 2012. "Evolution of theories of mind," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 299-318.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
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    Cited by:

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

    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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