Open Access

In Search of a Theory: The Interpretative Challenge of Empirical Findings on Cultural Variance in Mindreading


In this paper, we present a battery of empirical findings on the relationship between cultural context and theory of mind that show great variance in the onset and character of mindreading in different cultures; discuss problems that those findings cause for the largely-nativistic outlook on mindreading dominating in the literature; and point to an alternative framework that appears to better accommodate the evident cross-cultural variance in mindreading. We first outline the theoretical frameworks that dominate in mindreading research, then present the relevant empirical findings, and finally we come back to the theoretical approaches in a discussion of their explanatory potential in the face of the data presented. The theoretical frameworks discussed are the two-systems approach; performance-based approach also known as modularity-nativist approach; and the social-communicative theory also known as the systems, relational-systems, dynamic systems and developmental systems theory. The former two, which both fall within the wider modular-computational paradigm, run into a challenge with the cross-cultural data presented, and the latter - the systemic framework - seems to offer an explanatorily potent alternative. The empirical data cited in this paper comes from research on cross-cultural differences in folk psychology and theory-of-mind development; the influence of parenting practices on the development of theory of mind; the development and character of theory of mind in deaf populations; and neuroimaging research of cultural differences in mindreading.

Publication timeframe:
4 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Philosophy, other