Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants

Theory of mind (ToM) is the psychological explanation of the intellectual abilities that facilitate the understanding that other people have desires, plans, beliefs, and hopes. While these elements cannot be independently observed, they can be ascertained by interacting and monitoring the behaviors of others. According to Liszkowski (2013), a functional ToM is critical in daily human social interactions, particularly in flexibly predicting individuals’ habitual patterns. Liszkowski (2013) further notes that ToM is a composite process immensely influenced by language as an intuitive social skill which enables inferring what is in other people’s minds. However, this perspective amplifies social adaptation while disregarding infants’ biological abilities to associate, communicate, and comprehend the mental disposition of other people. Although infants have limited or absent linguistic competence, the continuous interactions and monitoring of other people’s habits equip them with behavior prediction capabilities.

The Article’s Summary and Methods

Preverbal infants acquire the representation of other people’s mental states, despite the infancy challenges of linguistic incompetence. Although language use facilitates the drawing of inferences about the unobservable mental states of others, children’s biological adaptations enable them to predict adults’ behavior. Liszkowski (2013) highlights what ToM entails and the criticality of language in predicting flexible human behavior. Additionally, it accentuates the inherent weaknesses of the formal conceptual approaches and standardized tests of ToM, due to their bidirectional influence. Thus, the article predicates the essence of a different strategy to determine the ToM in infants.

Establishing ToM in preverbal infants necessitates the utilization of techniques that will help uncover useful information and better understand their ability to predict the flexible conduct of adults. Liszkowski (2013) uses observational and experimental studies to collect data for subsequent determination of the presence or absence of ToM in infants since their linguistic abilities are not yet developed. For instance, the author observes 12-month and 18-month-old infants to demonstrate their ability to initiate and intervene proactively in the flexible behavior prediction. The application of the two methods is appropriate, considering the underdeveloped language abilities among infants, impeding their receptive and expressive skills. Moreover, the approaches align with the usage-based strategy in exploring ToM in infants who are yet to develop language capabilities. The experiments and observations reveal that infants’ reactions are triggered by tapping into their intuitive social skills, which facilitate the prediction of adults’ behaviors. Therefore, communication and the internalized meaning of conversations only enable children to engage in hypothetical discussions about others’ behavioral dispositions.

The Article’s Results

Language demonstrates people’s beliefs, desires, intentions, and plans, even when they are implicit and not expressed directly. However, infants’ expressive and receptive language abilities are not adequately competent to support their conversational interactions. Liszkowski (2013) argues that despite the linguistic incompetence, preverbal infants discern the mental statuses of the people they interact with. ToM in preverbal infants develops from the socio-contextual information they acquire by observing, monitoring, and interacting with other people. This suggests that ToM is not predicated on language competence but biological adaptations and social cueing (Liszkowski, 2013). Gazing is a critical social agent that facilitates the advancement of ToM in infants, regardless of the linguistic underdevelopment. Therefore, ToM development is made through continuous social interaction and does not stem from language competence.

Discussion and Justification of Infants’ Theory of Mind

Children react flexibly to other people’s behaviors, reflecting the variability of expectations from the same action. According to Liszkowski (2013), infants’ varying behaviors reveal their anticipation, interactions with the other person, and the social context within which the discourse occurs. This implies that children’s meta-interactional engagements furnish them with critical skills that enable them to predict and understand other people’s beliefs and desires (Burnside et al., 2020). This view is corroborated by Scott and Baillargeon (2017), who posit that infants mirror the previously registered interchanges with other people and the associated expectations. In this regard, the ability to flexibly predict behavior is not predicated on language competence but continuous engagement with others. Therefore, children adequately capture the interests, desires, and behaviors of adults through persistent interactions.

Additionally, infants initiate interactions depending on their expectations about other people’s reactions. For instance, a child will point to an interesting event, anticipating directing the recipient’s focus and a comment. When the adult disregards the invitation, the infant is prompted to point again, expecting a predetermined reaction. When the interlocutor responds positively, the child is predisposed to point to such future occurrences, indicating sufficient comprehension of the adult’s interests (Yott & Poulin-Dubos, 2018). Liszkowski (2013) argues that when an adult reacts negatively or neutrally to a scene directed to them by an infant, the latter stops pointing to such events since the adult is no longer interested. These observations demonstrate that infants initiate and respond to interactions variably, depending on the adults’ behaviors, interests, and desires. Thus, the usage-based approach depicts that ToM is used in interactions and that encounters drive the emergence and the subsequent development of a system which predicts action.

Moreover, preverbal children can intervene proactively by anticipating mistakes occasioned by other people. In the survey conducted by Liszkowski (2013), an adult moved an aversive object to avoid knocking it while another person restored the item in the absence of the individual who removed it (Liszkowski, 2013). Upon returning the first adult, a preverbal child spontaneously pointed to the replaced item, manifesting their ability to decipher danger and initiate a reaction (Liszkowski, 2013). The study demonstrates that infants have variable interactions and responses once they form a particular expectation regarding the person engaging them despite the absence of verbal capability. Observably, they shape their communication to suit the person and situation, including the initiation of proactive intervention. Therefore, these children reveal their mental states through direct usage in actions and not in conversations with other people.


Although some researchers argue that infants do not have a ToM, various studies indicate its presence even in months’ old infants. Liszkowski (2013) aptly demonstrates that this view is erroneous and is based on the assumption that the model is predicated on linguistic capabilities. Indeed, preverbal infants flexibly deploy and manifest their expectations about other people’s behaviors, informing their appropriate interactions. This ability is developed long before becoming competent linguistic users, and even before the traditional ToM can be established. Liszkowski’s (2013) conclusions are corroborated by other researchers, including Bunside et al. (2020) and Poulin-Dubois and Yott (2018), who demonstrate the presence of ToM in infants. As a result, linguistic capabilities expand the scope of ToM, but they are not causal in supporting the online prediction of behavior. Therefore, the implicit tasks exhibited by the preverbal infants provide insight regarding the intuitive aspect of ToM. As publication indicates, it is inborn, progresses, and advances as one acquires linguistic skills.


Burnside, K., Neumann, C., & Poulin-Dubois, D. (2020). Infants generalize beliefs across individuals. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 547680. Web.

Liszkowski, U. (2013). Using theory of mind. Child Development Perspectives, 7(2), 104−109. Web.

Poulin-Dubois, D., & Yott, J. (2018). Probing the depth of infants’ theory of mind: Disunity in performance across paradigms. Developmental Science, 21(4), e12600. Web.

Scott, R. M., & Baillargeon, R. (2017). Early false-belief understanding. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(4), 237−249. Web.

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"Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants." PsychologyWriting, 22 Sept. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants'. 22 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants." September 22, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants." September 22, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Usage-Based Approach to Determine the Theory of Mind in Infants." September 22, 2023.