Trust your Gut!

sally ane

When we are born, we have an innate ability to swim, yet this is lost and a much more advanced swimming ability is developed. This skill can develop twice in our life, an initial simpler version to cope with immediate needs, and a more matured version when we have the mental capacity to learn it.

This is mirrored in how we learn to understand others; how their thoughts, feelings and desires may be different to our own. For a long time it was believed that it is not until around the age of 4 that we develop this ability, known as theory of mind, and is tested using the Sally Anne test. In the Sally Anne test, the doll ‘Sally’ doesn’t see where the doll ‘Anne’ has moved a ball to and the child has to say where Sally will look for it. This requires the child to understand that what Sally knows about the position of the ball is different to what they know, and therefore that sally will look for the ball where it was before Anne moved it.

Yet more recent studies have shown that babies as young as 15 months possess theory of mind, and are capable of understanding the Sally Anne test. This is because we know that babies look for longer at things that surprise them, and when Sally looked for the ball where she hadn’t seen it placed, the babies stare for longer, showing that they were surprised that Sally knew where the ball was.

This suggests that we have a dual system for attributing mental states to others, one an automatic intuitive system for making gut decisions, and a second with flexibility that we develop at a later stage. Studies like these give much more credit to our gut instincts over our conscious decision-making processes, and so we should listen to our gut more often.


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About annadyas

Currently reading 'The Epigenetics Revolution' and reguarly read the New Scientist, so most of my posts will be relating to what I have just read. Currently studying biology, chemistry, maths and psychology at A2, and am the president of my colleges biology society.

2 responses to “Trust your Gut!”

  1. Luanne says :

    Yesterday, I read an article in the January issue of Smithsonian about research on babies innately having ethics. At least one of the tests was based on babies looking longer at a “helper” than a “hinderer,” meaning that babies prefer helpers. But if babies just look longer at what surprises them, then maybe helping surprises them!

    • annadyas says :

      It’s an interesting idea, and although it’s fascinating to look at the results of studies like these, it is so important to know the methodology used before you take it as fact, as like you say, they could just be surprised and may show no theory of mind at all!

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