A fairly old (1997) paper by Suddendorf and Fletcher-Flinn, Theory of Mind and the Origins of Divergent Thinking (here) has an interesting study showing that TOM is related to creativity. Here is the abstract:

The development of a `theory of mind’ may not only be important for understanding the minds of others but also for using one’s own mind. To investigate this supposition, forty children between the ages of three and four were given false-belief and creativity tasks. The numbers of appropriate and of original responses in the creativity test were found to correlate positively with performance on false-belief tasks. This association was robust, as it continued to be strong and significant even when age and verbal intelligence were partialled out. The results support the hypothesis that the meta-representational skills involved in theory of mind also affect the way children can access and scan their own mental repertoire beyond the areas of currently activated content (i.e. divergent thinking). With the advent of theory of mind a basic cognitive shift takes place in human development, and possibly took place in cognitive evolution.


They point out that TOM is important for social understanding and also for understanding and utilizing one’s own mind. The key seems to be the capacity to represent in the mind various presentations.

Because the creativity tasks did not involve any obvious kind of mental attribution, 
this finding points to another factor underlying both measures. The prime candidates, 
since the relationship holds even when intelligence and age are partialled out, is 
improved metarepresentational capacity and the ability to disengage from the 
immediate present. Understanding false beliefs in others requires the individual to 
dissociate from the immediate situation and to form a representation of the other's 
representation. Similarly, one may argue that the creativity task requires the 
children to dissociate from the immediate situation and to represent one's own 
knowledge, scanning it for items with a particular feature. This theoretical argument
 is consistent with the informal observation that during the testing procedure 
younger children tended to look for answers in their immediate environment, while 
older children gazed at the ceiling, apparently looking "inside" for appropriate 
responses. The data support the hypothesis that a general, rather than a 
specifically social, representational improvement takes place between age 3 and 4.   
The ability to juggle two variations of our model of the world at the same time seems to be important 
to our social life and our general intelligence/creativity. I think it would be important to metaphorical 
or analog thinking too. So when I understand electrical current by reference the flow of a liquid, 
for example, I have to hold the wire and the river in my mind at the same time and compare them. 

2 thoughts on “Meta-representation

  1. <p>Dear Janet,<br />
    May see the following links.<br /></p&gt;
    <p>Thanks,<br />
    JK reply:
    Thank you for the links. I have read them and have to say that I disagree with your basic ideas.

    Francis Crick is the father of the modern biological study of consciousness. The method of study was, and is, experimental (not philosophic, or religious, or psycoanalytic). It is evidence based. As this study has only just started, much, much, much more is unknown than known at this stage. It is too early to be making sweeping statements about what must be. There are many models, but even the people who put forward the models know that they are not ‘proven’ and many modification will have to be made before there will be widespread agreement on a model.

    I take some offense at your statement, “Those who say that “life” can be described by the existing physical laws are either ignorant or telling lies intentionally.” I do not accept that the scientists that I follow in this blog, or many of the blog’s loyal readers, or I, myself, are either ignorant or lying.


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