Abstract

Many species can respond to the behavior of their conspecifics. Human children, and perhaps some nonhuman primates, also have the capacity to respond to the mental states of their conspecifics, i.e., they have a “theory of mind.” On the basis of previous research on the theory-of-mind impairment in people with autism, together with animal models of intentionality, Brothers and Ring (1992) postulated a broad cognitive module whose function is to build representations of other individuals. We evaluate the details of this hypothesis through a series of experiments on language, face processing, and theory of mind carried out with subjects with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder resulting in an uneven lin-guisticocognitive profile. The results are discussed in terms of how the comparison of different phenotypes (e.g., Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, autism, and hydrocephaly with associated myelomeningocele) can contribute both to understanding the neuropsychology of social cognition and to current thinking about the purported modularity of the brain.

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