Symposium on Hayley Clatterbuck, “Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models”

I’m happy to initiate our latest Mind & Language symposium on  Hayley Clatterbucks’s  Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models,” from the journal’s September 2015 issue, with commentaries by Cameron Buckner (Houston), Shannon Spaulding (Oklahoma), and Jennifer Vonk (Oakland).

There has been a long-standing debate about whether apes, dogs, corvids, and possibly other animals have the capacity to engage in “mind-reading,” that is, the capacity to form beliefs about the mental states of others based on behavioral cues, environmental context, or other sources of evidence. A great deal of experimental work has focused on chimpanzees. According to the mind-reading hypothesis (MRH), as formulated by Robert Lurz, “chimpanzees have mental concepts, such as see and belief, that they apply to themselves and others (specifically, conspecifics) for the purpose of predicting others’ behaviors” (Lurz 2009: 305). The competing view is the  behavior-reading hypothesis (BRH): “chimpanzees lack mental concepts altogether and anticipate the behaviors of other animals on the basis of what they know or believe (from experience, inference, or innately) about the contingencies existing between such behaviors and the observable environment” (Lurz 2009: 306). In her article, Hayley analyzes two recent parsimony arguments that have been offered to break the current impasse between the MRH and the BRH, the “logical problem” argument developed by Daniel Povinelli, Derk Penn, and Jennifer Vonk, and Elliot Sober’s attempt to apply model selection criteria in support of the MRH. Hayley argues that Sober’s approach fails to adequately rebut the logical problem. However, applying model selection criteria to chimpanzees’ own mental models of behavior, she proposes, does yield a response to the logical problem and reveals an adaptive advantage of mind-reading models and a potential solution to a paradox raised by Andrew Whiten.

Comments on this post will be open for at least a couple of weeks. Many thanks to Hayley, Cameron, Jennifer, and Shannon. All of us here at the Brains Blog are grateful to Sam Guttenplan, the other Minds & Language editors, and the staff at Wiley-Blackwell (especially Imogen Clarke) for their continued support of these symposia!

You can learn more about Hayley and her research here and here.

Below there are links to a video introduction, the target article, commentaries, and Hayley’s replies.

Target Article: Hayley Clatterbuck, “Chimpanzee Mindreading and the Value of Parsimonious Mental Models

Hayley’s video introduction to her paper:


Replies (Hayley suggests that these be read in the following order):