Theory of Mind


Brain by Allan Ajifo Licensed under CC BY 2.0

 Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, do you know what they’ve been through; can you interpret one’s mental state from their body language and actions? Most humans are born with this understanding. This understanding is known as Theory of Mind or ToM for short. ToM is defined by wiki as “…the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.” As mentioned before most humans are born with this ability however, that’s not always the case.

Individuals that cannot process Theory of Mind often suffer a cognitive disorder known as mind-blindness. This means an individual does not have the ability to truthfully understand the minds and notions of others. They often will not understand that everyone is unique with their own motives and initiatives. Mind-blindness is common with people who have autism, Asperger’s, schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.


Eye-Tracking by City University Interaction Lab licensed under CC BY 2.0

 There are many tests that are used to assess Theory of Mind. False belief testing is used to understand that “other people can have beliefs about the worlds that are different from their own” (ncbi). False belief allows for the understanding and predictability of others. Children typically develop most Theory of Mind skills by age 6. Today we use eye-tracking technology known as anticipatory looking for false belief testing.


Progress by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 For many years scientists have not been able to confirm that great apes have a complete understanding of Theory of Mind. This is because up until last October testing could only prove certain elements of Theory of Mind in apes. According to Scientific American, scientists were able to implement a new study that uses an infrared camera to monitor the eye movement of apes. During the experiment bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans were brought into a room one at a time to watch a series of videos. Since apes are obsessed with social information like us humans, researchers created soap opera videos that displayed a series of events with apes as the main characters. All three species ended up passing this false belief test. The video below by New Scientists explains how the testing was conducted and monitored.



In my opinion, I believe that apes have the same ability to understand Theory of Mind like us humans do. Without language, it’s hard to accurately test the claim. However, with the increase in technology we have the potential to conduct new tests that can potentially uncover the truth. The experiment conducted last October is just the start to proving this claim. Do you think only humans have Theory of Mind?

Gossip Then Gossip Now

The contemporary definition of gossip by is “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others”. We typically identify gossip as the spreading of negative information about others. This video by CBS about gossip helps explain the other side of the word.

Dr. Michelle Callahan shares in the video that gossip can be either constructive or nasty. However, the initial intent of gossip always falls on gaining information about others. They joke around and say women use the term gossip where men often like to use the term “networking” as an associate form.


Barbary Macaques by AquilaGib is licensed under Wikimedia Commons

Let’s take a step back and look at the word “gossip” from an evolutionary perspective. Before language and the human species existed apes would gossip for survival purposes. It was important to gain information about other surrounding apes in order to group up and survive. Apes needed to know whom the strongest were, who’s the best forager, etc. They weren’t able to do this through speech. However, body language and social gestures often replaced language. These primates traveled and worked in groups. The level of threat predators brought determined this group size. Working in a group compromises one’s personal interests and turns them into group interests. Trust is one of the most important demands when working in a group. Apes needed to know they could rely on each other in desperate times. The larger the group was, the more one’s personal interests were compromised. In this case, gossip was used to gain information on others in social groups to know if they can be trusted.

Without language how did this information spread? Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar suggests that friendships were made through social grooming. Back in the day simply acts like cleaning others fur or sharing food represented social grooming. All in all, grooming built trust and relationships within social groups. Psychology Today says it best “it’s quite literally a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of relationship”. This grooming represented the “idle chit-chat” that we often relate with gossip today.


Barber Chair by Skitterphoto is licensed under CC0

In modern day we still part take in social grooming, we just use language now. From clothing someone to doing his or her hair it’s all a form of it. When’s the last time you went to a barber appointment where nothing was spoken? I can’t remember one either. At the end of the day, we still use gossip in a similar way that apes did in the past. The word gossip has evolved with the addition of language and evolution of primates. Plain and simple, we still use gossip to learn and share information about other whether it’s positive or negative.

The Future of Honey Bees

A few weeks back classmate Devan Kurr posted an article on The Sixth Extinction that sparked my interest in Honey Bee research. Over the last 10 years the Honey Bee species has been rapidly dying out. In 2016 there was a 44% drop in honeybee colonies, with summer losses rivaling the winter. The statistics are conducted every year by Bee Informed and funded by the USDA. The chart below shares colony loss rates for both commercial and small-scale beekeepers from 2006 to 2016.bee1

Posted on Bee Informed, created by Bee Informed & USDA

The fact that bee loss has continued to grow in summer is extremely alarming. Experts know that this issue needs to be resolved fast in order to keep honeybees alive.

If honeybees went extinct should we worry? The answer is yes, absolutely. Honey Bees contribute greatly to our economy; they are the reason we have cotton goods and many nutritious foods like apples, almonds and avocados. Watch this short clip from Life Noggin on “What Would Happen To You If All The Bees Die?”

It’s crazy to think that without bees our economy will suffer at least a $14 billion loss. I don’t know about you but I would like to continue to eat fruits and vegetables for the rest of my life.

In order to save the bees, we must first understand the root causes of extinction. Truthfully we can’t point fingers to one issue, there are many factors contributing to the problem. The three main issues are habitat destruction, parasites, and cell phones. Humans contribute to this issue by expanding infrastructures with construction. Ultimately we are taking away from bee colony habitats and forcing them elsewhere. Parasites are another major issue that is harming the bee species. Trachael (live internally) and Varroa (live externally) mites are the two parasites that infect bees. The infestation from both mites causes deadly diseases that ultimately reduce colony size. The last major issue is the increase in cell phone use. Cell phones give off electromagnetic waves that are harmful to bees. This radiation causes bees to lose the ability to return to their colony. In the end, we need bees and they need our help.

The University of Washington shares some tips on what we can do to help save the honeybee. Here’s what you can do!

The Solution” by: University of Washington 

  1. Plant Things that Bees like
  2. Provide Bee Habitats
  3. Eliminate Garden Pesticides
  4. Let your Veggies Bolt (turn to seed)
  5. Support your Local Beekeepers