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Navigating the Social WorldWhat Infants, Children, and Other Species Can Teach Us$
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Mahzarin R. Banaji and Susan A. Gelman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199890712

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199890712.001.0001

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Why Don’t Apes Understand False Beliefs?

Why Don’t Apes Understand False Beliefs?

(p.81) 2.3 Why Don’t Apes Understand False Beliefs?
Navigating the Social World

Michael Tomasello

Henrike Moll

Oxford University Press

The reasons why apes do not understand false beliefs are uknown. However, this chapter shows that looking at precisely what they do and do not understand about the psychological states of others in general—what they understand about goals, intentions, perceptions, and epistemic states—can provide specific insight on what it takes to understand that someone has a false belief. It presents two possible explanations for the difference between knowledge and belief. The first is that understanding a belief as false involves some kind of conflict—a conflict in which the most salient alternative, namely the agent's own knowledge of what is the case, must be suppressed or ignored. The second explanation—which shares some features with the first but aims to specify more precisely why the difficulty arises in specific tasks—is that great apes lack some specific cognitive capacities that are needed in order to understand false beliefs. The chapter then considers the debate in developmental psychology about when young children understand false beliefs, and whether the current analysis of apes is relevant to this debate.

Keywords:   apes, false beliefs, psychological states, intentions, perceptions, epistemic states, knowledge

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