Thinking About Me, You, and Them: Understanding Higher- Order Propositional Attitudes

Jason A. Wheeler Vega


Higher-order propositional attitudes (HOPAs), such as "I think that you think that...," figure in many fields including theory of mind, cognitive ethology, and psycholinguistics. Analysis of many examples suggests there may be differences in understandability of HOPAs depending on the type and number of constituents and the presence of recursions. Empirical work on normal adult ability with HOPAs has been lacking, leaving research with special populations without a standard for comparison. An exper- iment explored the effects of varying the number of individuals in HOPA sentences, up to the eighth order. Significant differences in understandability of HOPA sentences were found between three groups, those that are about (i) oneself, (ii) dyads, and (iii) series of different individuals. 

Full Text:



Astington, J. W. (1991). Intention in the child's theory of mind. In D. Frye & C. Moore (Eds.), Children's theories of mind: Mental states and social understanding (pp. 157-172). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Austin, J. L. (1975). How to do things with words (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Barkow, J. H., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J., (1992). The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: Bradford.

Baron-Cohen, S., Jolliffe, T., Mortimore, C., & Robertson, M. (1997). Another advanced test of theory of mind: Evidence from very high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 38(7), 813-822.

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Stone, V., & Rutherford, M. (1999). A mathematician, a physicist and a computer scientist with Asperger syndrome: Performance on folk psychology and folk physics tests. Neurocase: Case Studies in Neuropsychology, Neuropsychiatry, and Behavioural Neurology, 5(6), 475-483.

Bennett, J. (1991). How to read mind in behavior: a suggestion from a philosopher. In A. Whiten (Ed.), Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading (pp. 97-108). Oxford: Blackwell.

Brennan, S. E., & Williams, M. (1995). The feeling of another's knowing: Prosody and filled pauses as cues to listeners about the metacognitive states of speakers. Journal of Memory and Language, 34, 383-398.

Burge, T. (1986). On Davidson's "saying that". In E. LePore (Ed.), Truth and interpretation: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson (pp. 190-208). Oxford: Blackwell.

Byrne, R. W., & Whiten, A. (1988). Machiavellian intelligence: Social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes, and humans. Oxford: Clarendon.

Cargile, J. (1970). A note on "iterated knowings." Analysis, 30, 151-155.

Clark, H. H., & Marshall, C. R. (1992). Definite reference and mutual knowledge. In H. H. Clark (Ed.), Arenas of language use (pp. 9-59). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1981)

Corcoran, R. (2000). Theory of mind in other clinical conditions: is a selective 'theory of mind' deficit exclusive to autism? In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (2nd ed., pp. 391-421). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davidson, D. (1984). Inquiries into truth and interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon.

Dennett, D. C. (1978a). Brainstorms: Philosophical essays on mind and psychology. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

Dennett, D. C. (1978b). Beliefs about beliefs (commentary). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 568-570.

Dennett, D. C. (1987). The intentional stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dennett, D. C. (1995), Darwin's dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dennett, D. C. (1996). Kinds of minds: Toward an understanding of consciousness. New York: Basic Books.

Dummett, M. (1986). A nice derangement of epitaphs: Some comments on Davidson and Hacking. In E. LePore (Ed.), Truth and interpretation: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson (pp. 459-76). Oxford: Blackwell.

Dunbar, R. (1996). Grooming, gossip, and the evolution of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Eliot, J., Lovell, K., Dayton, C. M., & McGrady, B. F. (1979). A further investigation of children's understanding of recursive thinking. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 28, 149-157.

Ericsson, K. A., & Crutcher, R. J. (1991). Introspection and verbal reports on cognitive processes - two approaches to the study of thinking: A response to Howe. New Ideas in Psychology, 9, 57-71.

Ericsson, K. A., & Simon, H. A. (1980). Verbal reports as data. Psychological Review, 87, 215-251.

Fonagy, P., & Target, M. (1998). Mentalization and the changing aims of child psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 8, 87-114.

Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E. L., & Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. New York: Other Press.

Fonteyn, M. E., Kuipers, B., & Grobe, S. J. (1993). A description of think aloud method and protocol analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 3, 430-441.

Friedell, M. F. (1969). On the structure of shared awareness. Behavioral Science, 14(1), 28-39.

Frith, C. D., & Corcoran, R. (1996). Exploring 'theory of mind' in people with schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine, 26(3), 521-30.

Goldman, J. (1966). The lion in winter. New York: Samuel French.

Grice, H. P. (1997). Utterer's meaning and intentions. In P. Ludlow (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy of language (pp. 59-88). Cambridge, MA: Bradford. (Original work published 1969)

Happé, F. G. E. (1994). An advanced test of theory of mind: Understanding of story characters' thoughts and feelings by able autistic, mentally handicapped and normal children and adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 129-154.

Happé, F. G. E., Winner, E. & Brownwell, H. (1998). The getting of wisdom: Theory of mind in old age. Developmental Psychology, 34(2), 358-362.

Harman, G. (1972). Logical Form. Foundations of Language, 9(1), 38-65.

Hedden, T., & Zhang, J. (2002). What do you think I think you think? Strategic reasoning in matrix games. Cognition, 85, 1-36.

Howlin, P., Baron-Cohen, S., & Hadwin, J. (1999). Teaching children with autism to mind-read: A practical guide for teachers and parents. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Humphrey, N. (1983). Consciousness regained: Chapters in the development of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kuusela, H., & Paul, P. (2000). A comparison of concurrent and retrospective verbal protocol analysis. American Journal of Psychology, 113, 387-404.

Laing, R. D., Phillipson, H., & Lee, A. R. (1966). Interpersonal perception: A theory and method of research. London: Tavistock.

Larson, R. K., & Ludlow, P. (1997). Interpreted logical forms. In P. Ludlow (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy of language (pp. 993-1039). Cambridge, MA.: Bradford. (Original work published 1993)

Lepore, E., & Loewer, B. (1990). A study in comparative semantics. In C.A. Anderson & J. Owens (Eds.), Propositional attitudes: The role of content in logic, language, and mind (pp. 91-111). Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Leslie, A. M. (1991). The theory of mind impairment in autism: evidence for a modular mechanism of development? In A. Whiten (Ed.), Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading (pp. 63-78). Oxford: Blackwell.

Lewis, D. K. (1969). Convention: A philosophical study. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press.

Lismont, L., & Mongin, P. (1994). On the logic of common belief and common knowledge. Theory and Decision, 37, 75-106.

Maucorps, P. H., & Bassoul, R. (1962). Jeux de miroirs et sociologie de la connaissance d'autrui. [Games of mirrors and sociology of knowledge of others.]. Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie, 32, 43-60.

McGeer, V. (2001). Psycho-practice, psycho-theory and the contrastive case of autism: How practices of mind become second-nature. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 109-132.

Miller G. F. (1997). Protean primates: The evolution of adaptive unpredictability in competition and courtship. In A. Whiten & R. W. Byrne (Eds.), Machiavellian intelligence II: Extensions and evaluations (pp. 312-340). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, P. H., Kessel, F. S., & Flavell, J. H. (1970). Thinking about people thinking about people thinking about...:A study of social cognitive development. Child Development, 41, 613-23.

Modell, A. (1984). Psychoanalysis in a new context. New York: International University Press.

Perner, J., & Wimmer, H. (1985). "John thinks that Mary thinks that..." Attribution of second-order beliefs by 5- to 10-year- old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 39, 437-471.

Perner, J., & Wimmer, H. (1987). Young children's understanding of belief and communicative intention. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 2(1-2), 17-40.

Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 4, 515-26.

Radford, C. (1969). Knowing and telling. The Philosophical Review, 78, 326-336.

Rapaport, W. J. (1986). Logical foundations for belief representation. Cognitive Science, 10, 371-422.

Rosenthal, D. M. (1986). Two concepts of consciousness. Philosophical Studies, 49, 329-359.

Rosenthal, D. M. (1993a). Higher-order thoughts and the appendage theory of consciousness. Philosophical Psychology, 6(2), 155-166.

Rosenthal, D. M. (1993b). Thinking that one thinks. In M. Davies & G. W. Humphries (Eds.), Consciousness: Psychological and Philosophical Essays (pp. 197-223). Oxford: Blackwell.

Rosenthal, D. M. (2002). How many kinds of consciousness Consciousness and Cognition, 11, 653-665.

Russell, B. (1921). The analysis of mind. New York: Macmillan. Russell, B. (1940). An inquiry into meaning and truth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Searle J. R. (1969). Speech acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schiffer, S. (1997). Sententialist theories of belief. In P. Ludlow (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy of language (pp. 856- 873). Cambridge, MA: Bradford. (Original work published 1987)

Schultz, T. R., & Cloghesy, K. (1981). Development of recursive awareness of intention. Developmental Psychology, 17(4), 465-471.

Schultz, T. R. (1991). Modelling embedded intention. In D. Frye & C. Moore (Eds.), Children's theories of mind: Mental states and social understanding (pp. 195-218). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Swettenham, J. (2000). Teaching theory of mind to individuals with autism. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (2nd ed., pp. 442-456). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, J. A., Carletta, J., & Mellish, C. (1996). Requirements for belief models in cooperative dialogue. User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction, 6, 23-68.

Wellman, H. M. (1991). From desires to beliefs: Acquisition of a theory of mind. In A. Whiten (Ed.), Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading (pp. 19-38). Oxford: Blackwell.

Wilks, Y., & Bien, J. (1983). Beliefs, points of view, and multiple environments. Cognitive Science, 7, 95-119.

Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection: A critique of some current evolutionary thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 103-128.

Yngve, V.H. (1960). A model and an hypothesis for language structure. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 104(5), 444-466.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 The New School Psychology Bulletin

© The New School Psychology Bulletin |