IterativeMindreading: A Pragmatic Account of the Evolution of Human Language
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In this paper I review the evidence for a pragmatic approach of the evolution of human language as an ostensive communication system(Tomasello et al., 2005; Tomasello, 2008; Sperber &Wilson, 2002; Sperber & Origgi, 2010; Scott-Phillips, 2010a,b). Such an account presupposes that human communication originated in the ability to attribute mental states to our conspecifics and that therefore Theory of Mind is an essential evolutionary precursor to human communication. However, according to Sperber & Wilson (2002) lower order intentionality is insufficient to initiate ostensive communication, at least five levels of mental meta-representations are necessary for human language to emerge. I discuss this account in terms of implicit and explicit mindreading, and report the results of an experiment that tested the ability of humans to process a chain of iterative mental attributions of up to the eighth level. Furthermore, we tested whether implicit and explicit mental reasoning show differences in performance when higher order intentionality is presented either implicitly, through acting, or explicitly in the form of a narrator. This task was modelled on the Imposing Memory Task developed by Kinderman et al. (1998), and we have modified it to account for our presentation, and also to address a number of shortcomings we observed. It was hoped that the implicit presentation would improve the processing of intentionality, compared to the explicit presentation. Whilst we were not able to find differences between the two forms of presentation, our results suggest that human mindreading abilities may reach up into eight order intentionality, and do not show a decline in mindreading ability at the fifth level of intentionality, as found in previous research (Lyons et al., 2010; Stiller & Dunbar, 2007; Kinderman et al., 1998) However, our study has a number of shortcomings, which I discuss in the context of implicit and explicit mindreading.