In preparation

– Radical Enactivism vs. Radical Internalism;

– (with Jeremy Carpendale) The development of social understanding. The constructivist approach.

Under Review

– (subm.) Solving the puzzle about the false belief test. A socio-constructivist account.

I argue that children’s success in (elicited-response) false belief tests (FBTs) depends on the connection of their initially scattered understanding of the practical commitments of belief verbal attribution. Accordingly, children’s active engagement with parental conversation about mental states is the critical factor promoting their acquisition of the capacity to pass FBT. The proposed view accounts better than the received alternatives not only for the capacities but also the limits beyond younger children’s psychological understanding.


– (with Duilio Garofoloi, 2017) The biocultural emergence of mindreading: integrating cognitive archaeology and human development, Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science.

According to the thesis of natural mindreading (NMRT), mindreading—i.e., the capacity to attribute mental states to predict and explain behavior— is an intrinsic component of the human biological endowment, thus being innately specified by natural selection within particular neurocognitive structures. In this article, we challenge the NMRT as a phylogenetic and ontogenetic account of the development of the socio-cognitive capacities of our species. In detail, we argue that basic capacities of social cognition (e.g., the traces of early systems of bodily ornamentation within the archeological record, and infants’ selective attention at others’ beliefs in spontaneous-response false belief tasks) do not involve meta-representational mindreading but are better explained by appealing to situated embodied capacities acquired in social interaction. While we acknowledge that more flexible capacities of social cognition (e.g., those implied by the use of political emblems in industrialized societies, or by 4-year-olds’ success in elicitedresponse false belief tasks) involve genuine mindreading, we argue that this ability is elicited and scaffolded by linguistic communication. We conclude that mindreading has emerged as the outcome of a highly derivative long-term constructivist process of biocultural becoming that led to a relatively recent restructuring of the human mind in multiple worldly locations at different times. In particular, we conjecture that humans gradually converged on establishing linguistic practices allowing the understanding of others’ actions in terms of mental reasons. These practices were bequeathed to further generations, and continue nowadays to scaffold the acquisition of mindreading in early childhood.

– (2017). Rebuilding the landscape of psychological understanding after the mindreading war, Phenomenology & Mind, 1(1), 42–50. 10.13128/Phe_Mi-21113.

‘Mindreading war’ refers here to the intricate net of connected debates both in the philosophy and the cognitive sciences concerning the onset, the development, and the nature of the cognitive mechanisms underlying mindreading – i.e., the alleged ability to attribute mental states to predict and explain others’ behavior. The mindreading war has lasted for almost forty years by now with apparently no winners or losers. This article argues that the present stalemate results from the lack of initial theoretical discussion about foundational issues that led to the conflict. Recovering the dialogue between psychologists and philosophers is necessary if we are to start rebuilding the landscape of psychological understanding once this long war is over.

– (2017) What is the role of experience in children’s success in the false belief test: maturation, facilitation, attunement, or induction?, Mind & Language, 32(3), 308–337. 10.1111/mila.12145.

According to a widely shared view, experience plays only a limited role in children’s acquisition of the capacity to pass the false belief test: at most, it facilitates or attunes the development of mindreading abilities from infancy to early childhood. Against the facilitation—and even the maturation—hypothesis, I report empirical data attesting that children and even adults never come to understand false beliefs when deprived of proper social and linguistic interaction. In contrast to the attunement hypothesis, I argue that alleged mindreading abilities in infancy differ significantly from those required to pass the false belief test at age four. I conclude that children’s success in this task reflects the acquisition of a novel psychological competence, and argue that social experience in the form of parental conversation about mental states teaches children to exploit belief reports to predict intelligent behaviour, and induces their acquisition of a capacity to recognize and track others’ beliefs across contexts.

– (with Tad Zawidzki, 2016) Do Infant Interpreters Attribute Enduring Mental States or Track Relational Properties of Transient Bouts of Behavior?, Studia Philosophica Estonica, 9(2), 137–157.

We address recent interpretations of infant performance on spontaneous false belief tasks. According to most views, these experiments show that human infants attribute mental states from a very young age. Focusing on one of the most clearly worked out, minimalist versions of this idea, Butterfill & Apperly’s (2013) “minimal theory of mind” framework, we defend an alternative characterization: the minimal theory of rational agency. On this view, rather than conceiving of social situations in terms of states of an enduring mental substance animating agents, infant interpreters parse observed bouts of behavior and their contexts into goals, rational means to those goals, and available information. In other words, the social ontology of infant interpreters consists in goal-directed, (mis- or un-) informed bouts of behavior, by non-enduring agents, rather than agents animated by states of enduring, unobservable minds. We discuss a number of experiments that support this interpretation of infant socio-cognitive competence.

– (2016). Succeeding in the false belief test. Why does experience matter?, in Felline, L., Ledda, A., Paoli, F., Rossanese, E., New Developments in Logic and Philosophy of Science, College Pubblications, 77–86.

I challenge the view—commonly shared among developmentalists—that four-year-olds’ success in the false belief test mostly depends on the maturation of either computational resource or cognitive processes specic for mental state attribution. In contrast, available evidence suggests that success on the task is importantly shaped through conversation and social interaction. Adult mindreading is not naturally inscribed in our biological endowment, and social experience has a much more important role than what commonly assumed in its development.

– (2015) A simple explanation of apparent early mindreading. Infants’ sensitivity to goals and gaze directions, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14(3), 497–515, DOI 10.1007/s11097-014-9345-3.

According to a widely shared interpretation, research employing spontaneous-response false belief tasks demonstrates that infants as young as 15 months attribute (false) beliefs. In contrast with this conclusion, I advance an alternative reading of the empirical data. I argue that infants constantly form and update their expectations about others’ behaviour, and that this ability extends in the course of development to reflect an appreciation of what others can and cannot see. These basic capacities account for infants’ performance in spontaneous-response false belief tasks without the need to assume the existence of a cognitive module specific for mental state attribution. My proposal suggests a plausible explanatory strategy for the problem of the representational format of the information processed in spontaneous-response false belief tasks.

– 2015. Social predictive abilities in infancy: is mindreading the best explanation?, Philosophical Psychology, 28(3), 387–411, DOI 10.1080/09515089.2013.865096.

I discuss three arguments that have been advanced in support of the epistemic mentalist view, i.e., the view that infants’ social cognitive abilities (SCAs) manifest a capacity to attribute beliefs. The argument from implicitness holds that SCAs already reflect the possession of an “implicit” and “rudimentary” capacity to attribute representational states. Against it, I note that SCAs are significantly limited, and have likely evolved to respond to contextual information in situated interaction with others. I challenge the argument from parsimony by claiming that parsimony per se favors neither a mentalist nor a behavior-reading account. Finally, I argue that early SCAs do not develop continuously into four-year-olds’ belief attribution abilities. Accordingly, the argument from developmental continuity is empirically inadequate. Careful analysis of both the empirical data and the theoretical assumptions leading to the epistemic mentalist view is needed in order to improve our understanding of SCAs in early infancy.

– 2012. Embodied cognition and embedded theory of mind, Biolinguistics, 6(3–4), 276–307.

Embodiment and embeddedness define an attractive framework to the study of cognition. I discuss whether theory of mind, i.e. the ability to attribute mental states to others to predict and explain their behaviour, fits these two principles. In agreement with available evidence, embodied cognitive processes may underlie the earliest manifestations of social cognitive abilities such as infants’ selective behaviour in spontaneous-response false belief tasks. Instead, late theory-of-mind abilities, such as the capacity to pass the (elicited-response) false belief test at age four, depend on children’s ability to explain people’s reasons to act in conversation with adults. Accordingly, rather than embodied, late theory-of-mind abilities are embedded in an external linguistic practice.

– 2011. What does the false belief test test?, Phenomenology and Mind, 1, 197–207.

The age at which children acquire the concept of belief is a subject of debate. Many scholars claim that children master beliefs when they are able to pass the false belief test, around their fourth year of life. However, recent experiments show that children implicitly attribute beliefs even earlier. The dispute does not only concern the empirical issue of discovering children’s early cognitive abilities. It also depends on the kind of capacities that we associate to the very concept. I claim that concept possession must be understood in terms of the gradual development of the abilities that underlie the concept in question. I also claim that the last step to possess the concept of belief requires children to understand how beliefs and desires are used in everyday explanations of people’s actions. Thus, I suggest that understanding folk psychology as an explanatory theory is what children lack when they fail the false belief test.

– 2009. Psychology and psychologies: which epistemology?, Humana.Mente, 11, v–xiii.

If the definition of a scientific discipline depends on the definition of its object of investigation, the unity of psychology should depend on the unitarian description of the mind. However, the mind is anything but a unitarian concept. Its common sense definition is subject to temporal and geographical variation because the mental is also a cultural construct; and the variety of psychological disciplines nowadays existing proposes several definitions of the mental. The epistemology of psychology investigates the definition of the mental by assuming the pluralism of the psychological disciplines as a fact, rather than as a problem, and it invites psychologists to reason about the epistemological bases of their empirical research.

Articles (in Italian)

– 2013. Concetti in psicologia cognitiva: verso l’eliminazione del termine o l’integrazione delle teorie?

Stando alle teorie ibride dei concetti, la nozione di concetto può essere empiricamente fondata soltanto con riferimento a tre diversi costrutti teorici — prototipi, esemplari e teorie. In opposizione a questa tesi, Machery ha recentemente proposto di eliminare tale nozione dal vocabolario della psicologia. Sostengo che l’argomento eliminativista di Machery avalla troppo facilmente la distinzione tra prototipi, esemplari e teorie. Da una parte, infatti, prototipi e esemplari sono funzionalmente equivalenti e non identificano tipi naturali differenti. Inoltre non tutti i tipi di conoscenza teorica possono e devono essere spiegati all’interno di una teoria dei concetti. Piuttosto che eliminare la nozione di concetto, la psicologia cognitiva deve quindi tentare di integrare maggiormente risultati sperimentali provenienti da teorie fin troppo diverse e scarsamente confrontabili.

– 2013. Rappresentazione tacita della conoscenza e interpretazione delle capacità di cognizione sociale nella prima infanzia, Annali del Dipartimento di Filosofia (2012), Università degli Studi di Firenze.

Studi recenti hanno mostrato che bambini di 15 mesi rispondono selettivamente alle false credenze di altre persone. Secondo un’intepretazione mentalista di tipo epistemico, tale risultato dimostra che a 15 mesi i bambini posseggono una rudimentale capacità di attribuire credenze. Interpretazioni più deboli suggeriscono invece che i bambini sono sensibili alle credenze altrui perché capaci di individuare i loro correlati osservabili più prossimi. Il contrasto tra queste interpretazioni si avvale spesso di obiezioni di principio. Il dibattito può tuttavia essere ricondotto alla sua base empirica se si spiega chiaramente cosa significa avere una conoscenza ‘tacita’ o ‘implicita’ di una teoria. In questo saggio introduco una nozione di rappresentazione tacita in termini di somiglianza strutturale. Alla luce di tale nozione, discuto quali esperimenti cruciali andrebbero condotti per valutare la validità dell’interpretazione mentalista di tipo epistemico.

– 2013. Il test della falsa credenza, Analytical and Philosophical Explanation (Aphex), 8, 1–56.

La ricerca empirica nelle scienze cognitive può essere di supporto all’indagine filosofica sullo statuto ontologico e epistemologico dei concetti mentali, ed in particolare del concetto di credenza. Da oltre trent’anni gli psicologi utilizzano il test della falsa credenza per valutare la capacità dei bambini di attribuire stati mentali a se stessi e a agli altri. Tuttavia non è stato ancora pienamente compreso né quali requisiti cognitivi siano necessari per passare il test né quale sia il loro sviluppo. In questo articolo analizzo l’impatto della funzione esecutiva e delle abilità linguistiche per la capacità di passare il test della falsa credenza. Suggerisco che tale abilità dipende dall’acquisizione di un nuovo formato rappresentazionale per codificare la falsità degli stati mentali altrui. I dati in nostro possesso non permettono tuttavia di precisare la natura di tale formato.


– 2009. Psychology and Psychologies: which Epistemology?, Humana.Mente, 11.


Reviews & Interviews

– 2014. Do Apes Read Minds? by Kristin Andrews, Analysis.

– 2013. Radicalizing Enactivism by Hutto and Myin, Philosophical Psychology.

– 2011. Interview with Daniel Dennett, Humana.Mente, 15, 369-382, 369–382.

– 2011. Effective intentions by Mele, Humana.Mente, 15, 271–276.

– 2009. Doing without concepts by Machery, Humana.Mente, 11, 175–182.

– 2008. Individuo e persona. Tre saggi su chi siamo by Boniolo, De Anna, Vincenti, Humana.Mente, 6, 147–152.

– 2008. Forme del divenire. Evo-devo: la biologia evoluzionistica dello sviluppo by Minelli, Humana.Mente, 6, 173–176.

– 2008. A reading of Empiricism and the Philosophy of mind by Sellars, Humana.Mente, 5, 241–250.

– 2008. La mente sociale by Marraffa, Meini, Humana.Mente, 5, 199–206.

– 2008. Pensieri materiali by Gozzano, Humana.Mente, 5, 211–218.


Conference Proceedings

– 2010. Talking past one another. The theory of mind debate, in G. Ferrari, P. Bouquet, M. Cruciani, & F. Giardini (eds), Proceedings of the 7th AISC National Congress in Cognitive Sciences, Trento, 151–155.

– 2006. Modularità massiva e definizione logico-funzionale di architetture cognitive, in A. Greco, C. Penco, G. Sandini, & R. Zaccaria (eds.), Scienze Cognitive e Robotica. Atti del Terzo Convegno Nazionale dell’AISC, Erga Edizioni, Genova, 59–61.