In Search of a Theory: The Interpretative Challenge of Empirical Findings on Cultural Variance in Mindreading

In this paper, we present a battery of empirical findings on the relationship between cultural context and theory of mind that show great variance in the onset and character of mindreading in different cultures; discuss problems that those findings cause for the largely-nativistic outlook on mind-reading dominating in the literature; and point to an alternative framework that appears to better accommodate the evident cross-cultural variance in mind-reading. We first outline the theoretical frameworks that dominate in mind-reading research, then present the relevant empirical findings, and finally we come back to the theoretical approaches in a discussion of their explanatory potential in the face of the data presented. The theoretical frameworks discussed are the two-systems approach; performance-based approach also known as modularity-nativist approach; and the social-communicative theory also known as the systems, relational-systems, dynamic systems and developmental systems theory. The former two, which both fall within the wider modular-computational paradigm, run into a challenge with the cross-cultural data presented, and the latter – the systemic framework – seems to offer an explanatorily potent alternative. The empirical data cited in this paper comes from research on cross-cultural differences in folk psychology and theory-of-mind development; the influence of parenting practices on the development of theory of mind; the development and character of theory of mind in deaf populations; and neuroimaging research of cultural differences in mindreading.

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