Reading minds or reading scripts? De-intellectualising theory of mind

Derry Taylor, Gökhan Gönül*, Cameron Alexander, Klaus Zuberbühler, Fabrice Clément, Hans-Johann Glock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the origins of human social cognition is a central challenge in contemporary science. In recent decades, the idea of a ‘Theory of Mind’ (ToM) has emerged as the most popular way of explaining unique features of human social cognition. This default view has been progressively undermined by research on ‘implicit’ ToM, which suggests that relevant precursor abilities may already be present in preverbal human infants and great apes. However, this area of research suffers from conceptual difficulties and empirical limitations, including explanatory circularity, over-intellectualisation, and inconsistent empirical replication. Our article breaks new ground by adapting ‘script theory’ for application to both linguistic and non-linguistic agents. It thereby provides a new theoretical framework able to resolve the aforementioned issues, generate novel predictions, and provide a plausible account of how individuals make sense of the behaviour of others. Script theory is based on the premise that pre-verbal infants and great apes are capable of basic forms of agency-detection and non-mentalistic goal understanding, allowing individuals to form event-schemata that are then used to make sense of the behaviour of others. We show how script theory circumvents fundamental problems created by ToM-based frameworks, explains patterns of inconsistent replication, and offers important novel predictions regarding how humans and other animals understand and predict the behaviour of others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2028-2048
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number6
Early online date5 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Implicit theory of mind
  • Belief attribution
  • Script theory
  • Schema
  • Development of social cognition
  • Evolution of social cognition


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