Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Emergent Theory of Mind (ToM): A Product of Survival Mechanism?

Maria Almoite

The development of the human brain and its unique propensity to learn and process cognitive complexity has provoked many interrelated fields of study (e.g. Anthropology, Cognitive Science, and Psychology). These fields of study attempt to construe the evolution process, the occurrence of culture, and the development of social learning. This analysis will discuss the idiosyncrasies that make humans relatively unique in cultural learning in the animal kingdom, as well as the psychological universality and variability. 
           Human primates are relatively inimitable in the animal kingdom for being so dependent on cultural learning. The abilities to speak and have a theory of mind were fundamental adaptations for cultural learning. Previous studies have shown that humans’ are innately adapted for culture in ways non-human species are not. Human primates engage in the ratchet effect— the ability to accumulate previous cultural knowledge which allows modifications to occur over historical time. Moreover, humans’ ability to engage in Theory of Mind (ToM) allows them to fathom other individuals as intentional agents like the existence of self.

The brain difference between humans and other non-human species appears mostly in region sizes. The Encephalization Quotient (ratio between actual brain mass and predicted brain mass for an animal of a given size) suggest that our brain is approximately 4.6 larger than other mammals our size. Hence, the pivotal role of humans' evolution of their complex capacities allows them to engage in more sophisticated and superior cultural learning.

Traditionally, general psychology has emphasized the former (universality) and underestimates the latter (variability) by understanding the mind as a machine (CPU) by studying the natural laws. Conversely, cultural psychologists view the psychological processes as interdependent of their content. The theoretical positions with such history in psychology proposed that human thinking is profoundly attuned to the sociocultural contexts in which it naturally occurs.
The problem with universalistic approach to general psychology has been the repeated failure to replicate complete accuracy in results. The debate continues for whether such psychological process is universality or variability. The altercation remains controversial because evidence will often depend on the level of abstraction by which psychological processes are considered (e.g. non-universals, existential universals, functional universals, and accessibility universals).
The framework of cultural psychology highlights the significance of the interdependence between universality and variability. Submerging the field of cultural psychology into general psychology will not decrease the validity of research, but rather gain precision and generality by considering both aspects of the cognitive processes (e.g. universality and variability). Remarkably, psychological theories grounded in one culture are likely to be limited in applicability when applied to a different culture. Thus, the ultimate objective of cultural psychology is to promote the idea that the culture and mind are interdependent (i.e. dynamic).

1 comment:

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