Publication Date: September 2013
Revision Date: January 2014
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.
Evolution, Theory of mind
JEL Classification Codes: D01, C7