In this chapter, I provide an overview of the empirical research on the topic of theory of mind in nonhuman primates. The expression “theory of mind” (or mindreading) refers to the cognitive capacity to attribute mental states to self and others in order to interpret, predict, and explain behavior. It was originally coined in 1978 by Premack and Woodruff in an article in which the two authors advanced the idea that the chimpanzee could attribute mental states to humans. I discuss the debate that followed the publication of Premack and Woodruff’s paper. Specifically, I show that central to this debate is the question of whether any nonhuman apes exhibit false-belief understanding, which is considered the signature of mindreading. Recent experiments showed that chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans can pass several false-belief tests, adapted from paradigms originally developed for human infants with no language abilities. These findings open the way to the possibility the nonhuman apes have, at some degree, rudimentary capacities for representing and attributing mental states to others and that these capacities represent the evolutionary precursors of human theory of mind.
Adornetti, I. (2020). La teoria della mente nei primati non umani: lo stato dell’arte della ricerca empirica. In Stefano Gensini (a cura di), La voce e il logos. Filosofie dell'animalità nella storia delle idee (pp. 351-371). Pisa : ETS.