|dc.description.abstract||This thesis concerns mindreading, the ability to attribute mental states to others. The standard conception of mindreading emerged from philosophical debates about our everyday use of mental-state terms and experiments in psychology. Underlying this conception, I suggest, are three assumptions: that mindreading is fundamental to our social understanding, that it is (solely) aimed at accuracy, and that its purpose is to explain and predict others’ behaviour. While the core chapters of this thesis were conceived of separately, they each challenge one or more of these assumptions, putting pressure on the standard conception and presenting new directions for mindreading research.
The first chapter provides historical and theoretical background to mindreading research. This helps to contextualise the standard conception of mindreading and the three main assumptions that underly it. I then provide summaries of the remaining chapters and detail how they address these assumptions.
Chapter 2 looks at what I call the ‘third-person’ objection to the standard conception of mindreading. This objection is frequently alluded to in the literature; opponents of the standard conception of mindreading tend to assume that it is self-explanatory, while proponents often dismiss it by emphasising the importance or frequency of mindreading. After considering these approaches, this chapter offers a framework for thinking about the third-person objection, disambiguating three distinct targets: the perspective involved in mindreading, the purpose of mindreading, and the access that mindreading grants to others. To evaluate these criticisms, I suggest we need to
consider how interactions’ perceptual and cognitive demands can differ, specifically with regard to the reciprocity and goals involved. These aspects of interactions are not typically recognised; once we do so we can take a broader view of the purposes of, and perspective taken, in social cognition than either proponents or opponents of the standard conception typically allow.
Chapter 3 asks whether we perceive others’ emotions directly rather than infer them as in mindreading accounts. I outline different interpretations of what is at stake in the inferential/non-inferential distinction and examine an approach based on the similarity of emotion recognition to object recognition. I argue that this fails to appreciate key differences between emotion recognition and object recognition, namely the flexibility of, and effect of context on, facial expression perception and emotion categorisation. This allows me to distinguish between affect perception and emotion perception, and from here, I argue that we perceive the valence of people’s affective expressions.
Socio-cultural effects on mindreading are considered in chapter 4. I present evidence that shows intra-cultural differences in how we mindread based on socio-economic status in society – those with low socioeconomic status are more likely to attend to context when attributing mental states to others. I then suggest that transitory status in an interaction may also affect our motivation to mindread. These arguments highlight the impact of culture and social dynamics on mindreading, an area that has received relatively little attention and cannot be easily accommodated by traditional theories of mindreading.
In chapter five, I broaden the lens to offer a philosophical analysis of camouflaging in autism. Camouflaging – the use of coping strategies in social situations and the repression of specific behaviours – is increasingly given as a reason for the under- and late diagnosis of autism in women and girls. The social difficulties in autism are often attributed to mindreading difficulties, but camouflaging might show that these can be compensated. To try to understand this, first, I suggest that the concept of camouflaging is ambiguous regarding several different phenomena: socialisation differences, bias in tests, and implicit and explicit compensation. Then, drawing on the
mindshaping literature, I argue that social categorisation has pervasive effects on behaviour and how one is understood. This helps to explain ambiguities with the concept of camouflaging while demonstrating the importance of researching it.
Finally, in chapter 6, the conclusion, I rehearse the critical insights of this thesis, and consider relevant future research.||en