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From Theory of Mind to Vicarious Perception

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An improved theory of mind

An EU team considered alternatives to standard theories of social cognition. The work fleshed out a new interpretation of vicarious perception, and yielded numerous publications.

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Theory of mind (TOM) is the ability to attribute mental states to others, thereby understanding another's point of view. The ability plays a very important role in human society, yet there may be more to social cognition than TOM alone. The EU-funded TMVP (From theory of mind to vicarious perception) project argued that TOM is but one of many forms of understanding others. A second form is vicarious perception. Whereas in TOM one merely grants that another person may experience something, vicarious perceptions means to sympathetically feel what an observed entity feels. For example, if someone looks cold, an observer may feel cold too. Some psychologists argue that vicarious perception is a simpler, more useful and more modern theory – a line of reasoning the project investigated. Research also considered additional TOM aspects – specifically, the capacity of animals for vicarious perception – plus developmental processes, component mental processes and neural underpinnings of TOM. The work yielded two monographs containing a new general theory of vicarious perception. Other outputs include 57 publications (articles and book chapters), plus a total of 56 conference presentations and public talks. Project researchers also organised an annual public lecture series, a biannual masterclass, plus several conferences and events. The TMVP project has offered a new understanding of TOM in terms of complementary social cognitive processes.

Keywords

Theory of mind, social cognition, vicarious perception, TMVP, animals

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