Re-conceptualizing the role of stimuli: an enactive, ecological explanation of spontaneous-response tasks

Publication Name

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences


This paper addresses a challenge proposed against non-mindreading explanations of infant spontaneous-response task data. The challenge is a foundational assumption of mindreading explanations best summed up by Carruthers (Mind and Language, 28(2): 141-172, 2013, Consciousness and Cognition, 36: 498-507, 2015) claim that only by appealing to a theory of mind is it possible to explain infant responses in spontaneous-response false-belief tasks when there are no one-to-one correspondences between observable behavior and mental states. Heyes (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(2), 131–143, 2014a, Developmental Science, 17(5), 647–659. b) responds to this challenge arguing discrete stimuli is informationally wealthy, and interprets the spontaneous-response results in terms of low-level perceptual novelty. However, Scott and Baillargeon (Child Development, 80: 1172-1196, 2009, Developmental Science, 17(5): 660-664, 2014) challenge Heyes’ explanation on the grounds that her account of spontaneous-response false-belief tasks cannot also explain spontaneous-response ignorance tasks. In response to this, an enactive, ecological goal-tracking explanation of spontaneous-response tasks is presented, and argued to be superior to both mindreading explanations and Heyes’ account. This is done by recasting perception and anticipation and appealing to the central role social normativity plays in constraining social cognition. Finally, it is argued the cognitivist framework that both Heyes and mindreading proponents appeal to, begs the question in favor of the indispensability of mental representations for explaining perception and anticipation.

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