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Simulation Theory

Page history last edited by Victoria Yupangco 13 years, 2 months ago

Folk Psychology: Simulation Theory


Simulation Theory (ST) is a theory of Folk-Psychology; the approach uses a simulation skill as its cognitive mechanism.

Simulation is an inner imitation; it focuses on imagination, replication or re-creation. We can simulate someone else’s thinking in order to understand them, predict and or explain behavioural outcomes. Simulation Theory is based on a first person perspective, it is both egocentric and subjective; it relies on the skill of replication in order to reach an understanding of what the other person is thinking. ST gives predictions and explanations. Predictions are achieved through forward simulation; firstly one imagines the other person’s perspective, their beliefs and desires, and then the actions that would follow from those. A prediction through mental simulations rests on two assumptions:


  1. That the mental events operate in the same way in imagination as they do in reality
  2. That the people are relevantly similar to each other.



 Simulation is used to attribute beliefs and desires, for prediction and explanation through the use of imagination.


ST adheres to the use of models for mental representations; using practical knowledge and models that function on a similarity-based structure. There is no need for theoretical knowledge in order to simulate, simulation is an imaginative capacity; it is a process dedicated to social understanding/social cognition. ST stands in opposition to Theory Theory which is another approach to folk psychology; (see also Theory-Theory.)



Of the evidence that supports ST, the biological disorder of autism is of special concern (see also AUTISM). The claim that autism supports the Simulation Theory is quite controversial; it is widely discussed by proponents of simulation.  Autistic children do not participate in pretend play, they lack in the ability to imagine themselves in a situation other than their own actual or current position, they do not engage in social activities such as shared attention, imitation or cooperative play. Due to these skill deficiencies, it is believed that autistic children do not exhibit the same ability as other children have with respects to attributing false beliefs; their social cognition is impaired.


The False belief tasks experiment uses a scenario where there are two dolls, one is named Sally; Sally observes an object being hidden somewhere (location 1), she then leaves the room, while she is absent the other doll moves the hidden object into a new location (location 2). When Sally comes back into the room, this question is posed “Where will Sally look for the object”, 80% of autistic children answered location 2, this is particularly interesting when compared with Down’s syndrome children (intellectual impairment), who for the most part answered location 1.  This means that the autistic child’s inability to account for Sally’s beliefs is not due to impaired intellect; rather it is as a result of social cognition. If the child had said location 1, then the child is acknowledging that Sally has her own perspective of the world (beliefs) and that she will look for where she last saw the object not to where the object was moved in her absence. It involves simulating what Sally would think by knowing what her beliefs about the object are, and imagining where she would look for it.


 - Stephanie Akoury, University of Toronto


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