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The functional and neural basis of belief and desire reasoning

Houthuys, Sarah (2010)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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Beliefs and desires are two core mental states that enable us to understand human behaviour. Research in developmental psychology reveals that children understand desires earlier than beliefs, suggesting that the cognitive processes underlying desire reasoning are less complex or less effortful than the processes underlying belief reasoning. Recent findings from studies with adults have identified a specific neural network associated with belief reasoning and found that belief reasoning is cognitively effortful even for healthy adults. However, there has been very little research into the cognitive and neural processes involved in desire reasoning in adults and the extent to which these processes are distinct to those involved in belief reasoning. In Chapter 2, I directly compare the performance of adults with acquired brain damage in belief and desire reasoning tasks, and I suggest the existence of two separate processes in desire reasoning: one linked to self-perspective inhibition and one linked to the reasoning about avoidance desires. In Chapters 3 and 4 I further assess these processes in healthy adults and show that both lead to a measureable cost in the participants’ performance. This provides the first report that desire reasoning (and not only belief reasoning) is cognitively effortful for healthy adults. In Chapter 5, I document a double dissociation in adults with acquired brain damage showing that the processes mediating self-perspective inhibition and those mediating the reasoning about avoidance desires are executive in nature but functionally and neurally distinct. In Chapter 6, I discuss the implications of the findings for the understanding of how beliefs and desires are processed in the adult mind and brain.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Samson, Dana and Humphreys, Glyn W.
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
Department:School of Psychology
Subjects:BF Psychology
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:1130
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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