Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Theory of Mind Independent of Episodic Memory



Science 23 November 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5854, p. 1257

Theory of Mind Is Independent of Episodic Memory

R. Shayna Rosenbaum, Donald T. Stuss, Brian Levine, Endel Tulving

Department of Psychology, York University and Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada.


Theory of mind (ToM) to infer other people's current mental states and episodic memory of personal happenings have been assumed to be closely related. We report two participants with severely impaired episodic memory who perform indistinguishably from healthy controls on objective ToM tests. These results suggest that ToM can function independently of episodic memory.

As humans, we are intrigued by who we are and how we differ from other creatures of evolution. Among the capacities thought to be uniquely human are autonoetic consciousness, the aspect of self-awareness that allows us to imagine our own experiences in different places at other times, and theory of mind (ToM), which allows us to infer other people's current mental states. The idea that ToM is closely related to, and that it may depend on, episodic memory and autonoetic consciousness seems perfectly natural: that in order to imagine and make sense of other people's thoughts, feelings, intentions, and actions, we must rely on our autobiographical recollections. The ability to consciously recollect past personal happenings has been shown to be necessary for imagining coherent and detailed personal happenings in the future. Both episodic memory and ToM emerge close in time in ontogenetic development. The neural substrate on which the two abilities rely is in many ways strikingly similar.



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