The theory of mind is vital for having a give-and-take conversation and for realizing that other people do not always have the best interests at heart. The theory of mind can be described as the ability to use such concepts as intentions, goals, and perceptions to interpret behavior. With the theory of mind, it is easier to monitor the actions of children or other people to determine their intentions. Meaningful engagements with children will require an understanding of their mental abilities. The most important thing with the theory of mind is that it helps to describe the cognitive development of children at the early stages. The children learn to acknowledge that there are other minds out there that differ from their own and whose intentions may not be good for them. Their reactions to situations can be based on such comprehension where they choose to protect their interest by such strategies as lying.
The theory of mind is vital for the cognitive advancement of children, and it can be used to assess their development. To explain this point, such examples as the “Mean Monkey” game have been used. Among the 3-year-olds, the theory of mind is observed not to be as developed as is the case with the 4-year-olds. Such contrast is visible when the 3-year-olds keep pointing at their favorite stickers and getting the ‘yucky’ ones instead. Among the 4-year-olds, their theory of mind is seen to have developed, thereby allowing them to learn that the only way to protect their favorite stickers is by pointing at something different. In this way, lying becomes a critical cognitive advance. It can be argued, therefore, that the theory of mind is vital because it allows children to protect their self-interests where everyone else might be trying to jeopardize them. It also helps children to learn the intentions of other minds and to predict the outcomes of certain actions. The false-belief experiments have illustrated that having a theory of mind is a critical indicator of cognitive development.
It is difficult to map the age when the ability of the theory of the mind kicks in because of various cultural differences. The false-belief experiments have largely involved children between three and four years, where the latter are seen to have developed the theory of mind while the former appears not to be catching up. Such observation can be used to make the conclusion that the theory of mind develops at around four years of age. However, Piaget believes that the age-4 marker is not correct because children tend to show signs of the theory of mind ability before they can express their understanding in words. Some experiments had revealed that even by 18 months of age, some children seemed to be surprised when an adult looked for a hidden object in the second place as opposed to the first. Such expressions are an indicator that the children at such age have developed a theory of mind. The observation that young infants tend to understand human motivations could be an indicator that they have developed a theory of mind.
The differences in the age at which the children develop a theory of mind can be explained by a number of factors. The type of culture within which a child grows can determine the age at which children start to display or develop the theory of mind. In collectivist cultures, such as the Iranian and Chinese, the children tend to take longer to understand that people have conflicting opinions. In contrast, Western cultures engage the children more in parent-child disagreements that cause the children to develop the theory of mind at an earlier age. The environment and the type of interaction with other people make significant contributions to the differences. In other words, the hands-on experience in colliding with other minds, for example, among children with older siblings, will make them develop a tendency to stand up for their own interests in some conversations. For example, fighting for toys with older siblings and arguing with them will allow them to develop a theory of mind at an earlier age.
In conclusion, the theory of mind is vital because it expresses the cognitive development of children and allows them to acknowledge the presence of other minds that could jeopardize their interests. Having a theory of mind allows the children to predict the outcomes of various interactions and pursue courses of action that best suit them. The age at which the theory of mind develops is a topic of contention because many experiments indicate around 3 to 4 years, while Piaget feels that even younger infants have developed the theory of mind. Cultural differences are the main factors explaining the age difference where children in collectivist cultures take longer to develop the theory of mind.