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The nativist view of mentalizing-the view that humans have an inherent capacity to think about the mental states of others-has been recently reinvigorated by reports that adults and infants automatically represent mental states-that they engage in implicit mentalizing. In this article, I take a close look at the strongest evidence of implicit mentalizing in adults, which suggests that people automatically represent what others see, intend, and believe. I argue that although these experiments have been ingeniously designed and carefully implemented, they do not provide evidence of implicit mentalizing because their results could be due instead to submentalizing-domain-general cognitive mechanisms that simulate the effects of mentalizing in social contexts. These include the processes that mediate involuntary attentional orienting, spatial coding of response locations, object-centered spatial coding of stimulus locations, retroactive interference, and distraction. If my analysis is correct, it suggests that the same domain-general processes can provide a fast and efficient alternative to mentalizing in everyday life, allowing people to navigate a wide range of social situations without thinking about mental states. Thus, submentalizing could be both a substrate and a substitute for mentalizing.

Original publication




Journal article


Perspect Psychol Sci

Publication Date





131 - 143


automatic processing, false belief, mentalizing, mindreading, perspective taking, theory of mind