Theory of Mind and Information Processing Theory

Theory of Mind

Imagine showing a 3 year old child a Band-Aid box and asking the child what is in the box. Chances are, the child will reply, “Band-Aids.” Now imagine that you open the box and pour out crayons. If you ask the child what they thought was in the box before it was opened, he or she may respond, “crayons”. If you ask what a friend would have thought was in the box, the response would still be the same–“crayons.” Why? Before about 4 years of age, a child does not recognize that the mind can hold ideas that are not accurate. So this 3 year old changes his or her response once shown that the box contains crayons. The theory of mind is the understanding that the mind can be tricked or that the mind is not always accurate. At around age 4, the child would reply, “Crayons” and understand that thoughts and realities do not always match.

This awareness of the existence of mind is part of social intelligence or the ability to recognize that others can think differently about situations. It helps us to be self-conscious or aware that others can think of us in different ways and it helps us to be able to be understanding or empathic toward others. This mind reading ability helps us to anticipate and predict the actions of others–even though these predictions are sometimes inaccurate).

The awareness of the mental states of others is important for communication and social skills. A child who demonstrates this skill is able to anticipate the needs of others. (53)

Information Processing Theory

Information processing theory is a classic theory of memory that compares the way in which the mind works to computer storing, processing, and retrieving information.

There are three levels of memory:

Sensory Register

Information first enters our sensory register. Stop reading and look around the room very quickly. (Yes, really. Do it!) Okay. What do you remember? Chances are, not much. Everything you saw and heard entered into your sensory register. And although you might have heard yourself sigh, caught a glimpse of your dog walking across the room, and smelled the soup on the stove, you did not register those sensations. Sensations are continuously coming into our brains, and yet most of these sensations are never really perceived or stored in our minds. They are lost after a few seconds because they were immediately filtered out as irrelevant. If the information is not perceived or stored, it is discarded quickly.

Working Memory (Short-term Memory)

If information is meaningful (either because it reminds us of something else or because we must remember it for something like a history test we will be taking in 5 minutes), it makes its way into our working memory. This consists of information of which we are immediately aware. All of the things on your mind at this moment are part of your working memory. There is a limited amount of information that can be kept in the working memory at any given time. So, if you are given too much information at a time, you may lose some of it. (Have you ever been writing down notes in a class and the instructor speaks too quickly for you to get it all in your notes? You are trying to get it down and out of your working memory to make room for new information and if you cannot “dump” that information onto your paper and out of your mind quickly enough, you lose what has been said.)

Information in our working memory must be stored in an effective way in order to be accessible to us for later use. It is stored in our long-term memory or knowledge base.

Knowledge Base (Long-term Memory)

This level of memory has an unlimited capacity and stores information for days, months or years. It consists of things that we know of or can remember if asked. This is where you want information to ultimately be stored. The important thing to remember about storage is that it must be done in a meaningful or effective way. In other words, if you simply try to repeat something several times in order to remember it, you may only be able to remember the sound of the word rather than the meaning of the concept. So if you are asked to explain the meaning of the word or to apply a concept in some way, you will be lost. Studying involves organizing information in a meaningful way for later retrieval. Passively reading a text is usually inadequate and should be thought of as the first step in learning material. Writing key words, thinking of examples to illustrate their meaning, and considering ways that concepts are related are all techniques helpful for organizing information for effective storage and later retrieval.

While children learning process information during infancy and childhood, we see major improvements during middle childhood. During this period, children are able to learn and remember due to an improvement in the ways they attend to and store information. As children enter school and learn more about the world, they develop more categories for concepts and learn more efficient strategies for storing and retrieving information. One significant reason is that they continue to have more experiences on which to tie new information. New experiences are similar to old ones or remind the child of something else about which they know. This helps them file away new experiences more easily.

School children also have a better understanding of how well they are performing on a task and the level of difficulty of a task. As they become more realistic about their abilities, they can adapt studying strategies to meet those needs. While preschoolers may spend as much time on an unimportant aspect of a problem as they do on the main point, school aged children start to learn to prioritize and gage what is significant and what is not. They develop metacognition or the ability to understand the best way to figure out a problem. They gain more tools and strategies (such as “i before e except after c” so they know that “receive” is correct but “recieve” is not.) (54)