Dissertation: Understanding Different Components in Intentional Action

Understanding Different Components in Intentional Action

How Understanding Others‘ Mental States Helps to Learn From Others and Predict Their Behaviour

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Schriften zur Entwicklungspsychologie, Band 30

Hamburg , 206 Seiten

ISBN 978-3-8300-6474-9 (Print) |ISBN 978-3-339-06474-5 (eBook)

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“Is there a human-specific understanding of others’ intentional actions?

It is important to answer this question since this understanding might be seen as the prerequisite for the development of sophisticated forms of social learning that then facilitated the development of human unique culture. The current study investigated whether great apes, like humans, interpret others’ actions in terms of the underlying mental states. In a series of studies, a variety of methods, e.g. copying others’ actions, object choice and dwell-time, is used to test mother-reared individuals of all four great ape species, enculturated chimpanzees and human infants for comparison in both between-subjects and within-subjects designs. In this way this book gives a nice overview of the ways developmental and comparative psychologist try to find out more about our closest relatives’ ability to infer others’ mental states and explain or predict their behaviour based on these inferences.

The participants were presented with as natural and simple as possible test situations which in turn might give chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans the opportunity to demonstrate skills that were generally considered as being uniquely human. The results indicate that great apes understand the most basic components of intentional action – goals, intentions and desires – and so the differences between humans and nonhuman primates in understanding others’ intentional actions are smaller than was previously believed.


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