Theory of Mind, Aesthetic Judgment and Child Development Issues: A Narrative Review

Main Article Content

Pedro Mendonça
Alain Savoie
Anne-Marie Émond


The Theory of Mind (ToM) is an empathy related concept that refers to the ability of attributing mental states to oneself and to others. ToM is present throughout the process of aesthetic judgment and essential for an aesthetic experience to happen. We present a narrative overview of four influential studies that propose a developmental model of aesthetic judgment in children and we discuss their inherent relationship with ToM. We argue that ToM permeates the four suggested models, although not expressly mentioned in them, and conclude that ToM cannot be separated from the aesthetic experience in the context of child development.

Keywords: Art Appreciation; Aesthetic Experience; Aesthetic Judgment; Child Development; Empathy; Imagination; Shared meaning; Theory of Mind (ToM).


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details



Aguirre, I. (2004). Beyond the understanding of visual culture: A pragmatist approach to aesthetic education. The International Journal of Art & Design Education, (23), 256-269.

Anderson, J.R. (2004). Cognitive psychology and its implications (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Archambault, A., & Venet, M. (2007). Le développement de l’imagination selon Piaget et Vygotsky : D’un acte spontané à une activité consciente. Revue des sciences de l'éducation, 5(24), 5-24. doi: 10.7202/016186ar

Atkinson, L., Slade, L., Powell, D., & Levy, J.-P. (2017). Theory of mind in emerging reading comprehension: A longitudinal study of early indirect and direct effects. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 30(16), 190-194. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.04.007

Ballatore, A., Bertolotto, M., & Wilson, D.-C. (2014). An evaluative baseline for geo-semantic relatedness and similarity. GeoInformatica, 18(4), 747–767.

Baron-Cohen, S. (2005). The essential difference, male and female brains and the truth about autism. London, UK: Basic Books.

Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"? Cognition, 21(1), 37–46.

Bergeron, V., & Lopes, D. M. (2012). Aesthetic theory and aesthetic science. In A. P. Shimamura & S. E. Palmer (Eds.), Aesthetic science. Connecting minds, brains, and experience (pp. 61-79). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bensalah, L., Caillies, S., & Anduze, M. (2015). Links between cognitive empathy, theory of mind, and affective perspective taking by young children. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(1), 17-31.

Brock, L.-L., Kim, H., Gutshall, C.-C., & Grissmer, D.-W. (2018). The development of theory of mind: Predictors and moderators of improvement in kindergarten. Early Child Development and Care. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2017.1423481

Carpendale, J., & Lewis, C. (2006). How children develop social understanding. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Carruthers, P. (1996). Simulation and self-knowledge: A defence of the theory-theory. In P. Carruthers & P.K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind (22-38). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Chatterjee, A. (2014). The aesthetic brain. How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art. New York, NY: University Press.

Craig, J., & Baron-Cohen, S. (1999). Creativity and imagination in autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(4), 319-326.

Danvers, J. (2003). Towards a radical pedagogy: Provisional notes on learning and teaching in art & design. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 22(1), 47-57.

Dennett, D. (1978). Beliefs about beliefs. Behavioral and brain sciences,1(4), 568–570.

Dineen, R., & Collins, E. (2005). Killing the goose: Conflicts between pedagogy and politics in the delivery of a creative education. The International Journal of Art & Design Education, 24, 43-52.

Dvash, J., & Shamay-Tsoory, S.-G. (2014). Theory of Mind and empathy as multidimensional constructs: Neurological foundations. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 282–295.

Eaton, M. M., & Moore, R. (2002). Aesthetic experience: Its revival and its relevance to aesthetic education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 36(2), 11-23.

Freedberg, D., & Gallese, V. (2007). Motion, emotion and empathy in aesthetic experience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(5), 197-203.

Gernot, G., Pelowsky, M., & Leder, H. (2017). Empathy, Einfühlung, and aesthetic experience: The effect of emotion contagion on appreciation of representational and abstract art using fEMG and SCR. Cognitive Processing, 19(2), 147-165. doi: 10.1007/s10339-017-0800-2

Gilli, G.-M., Ruggi, S., Gatti, M., & Freeman, N.-H. (2016). How children’s mentalistic theory widens their conception of pictorial possibilities. Frontiers in Psychology, 7 (177). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00177

Goldstein, T.-R., & Winner, E. (2012). Enhancing empathy and theory of mind. Journal of Cognition and Development, 13(1), 19-37.

Guariglia, P., Piccardi L., Giaimo. F., Alaimo, S., Miccichè, G., & Antonucci, G. (2015). The eyes test is influenced more by artistic inclination and less by sex. Frontiers in Human Neurosciences, 9(292). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00292

Gweon, H., Dodell-Feder, D., Bedny, M., & Saxe R. (2012). Theory of mind performance in children correlates with functional specialization of a brain region for thinking about thoughts. Child Development, 83(6), 1853-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01829.x.

Hochmann, J. (2012). Une histoire de l’empathie. Paris, FR: Odile Jacob.

Housen, A. (1992). Validating a measure of aesthetic development for museums and schools. ILVS (International Laboratory for Visitor Studies). Review: A Journal of Visitor Behavior, 2(2), 213-237.

Housen, A. (2002). Aesthetic thought, critical thinking and transfer: Visual understanding in education. Arts and Learning Research Journal, 18(1), 99-132.

Hynes, C.-A., Baird, A.-A., & Grafton, S.-T. (2005). Differential role of the orbital frontal lobe in emotional versus cognitive perspective-taking. Neuropsychologia, 44(3), 374–383.

Ilaril, B., Fesjian, C., & Habibi, A. (2018). Entrainment, theory of mind, and prosociality in child musicians. Music & Science, (1), 1-11. doi: 10.1177/2059204317753153

Ives, W., & Pond, J. (1980). The arts and cognitive development. The High School Journal, 63(8), 335-340.

Leder, H., Belke, B., Oeberst, A., & Augustin, D. (2004). A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 489–508.

Leder, H., & Nadal, M. (2014). Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments: The aesthetic episode – Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics. British Journal of Psychology, 105, 443–464.

Lipponen, S. (2013). Aesthetics, affect and user preference - Finding objective measures for subjective experiences (Master's thesis). Alto University School of Business. Department of Information and Service Economy. Retrieved from:

Lockl, K., Ebert, S., & Weinert, S. (2017). Predicting school achievement from early theory of mind: Differential effects on achievement tests and teacher ratings. Learning and Individual Differences, 53, 93-102.

Luckett, T., Powell, S.-D., Messer, D.-J., Thornton, M.-E., & Schulz, J. (2002). Do children with autism who pass false belief tasks understand the mind as active interpreter? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(2), 127-140.

Myers, L.-J., & Liben, S.-L. (2012). Graphic symbols as ‘‘The Mind on Paper’’: Links between children’s interpretive Theory of Mind and symbol understanding. Child Development, 83(1), 186-202.

Nietlisbach, G., Maercker, A., Rössler, W., & Haker, H. (2010). Are empathic abilities impaired in posttraumatic stress disorder? Psychological Reports, 106(3), 832-844.

Parsons, M.-J. (1976). A suggestion concerning the development of aesthetic experience in children. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 34(3), 305-314.

Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Brain and Behavioral Sciences, 4, 515-526. doi:10.1017/S0150525X00076512

Reniers, R. L. E. P., Völlm, B. A., Elliott, R., & Corcoran, R. (2014). Empathy, ToM, and self–other differentiation: An fMRI study of internal states. Social Neuroscience, 9(1), 50–62. doi:

Righi, S., Gronchi, G., Pierguidi, G., Messina, S., & Viggiano, M.-P. (2017). Aesthetic shapes our perception of every-day objects: An ERP study. New Ideas in psychology, 47, 103-112. doi:

Rodway, P., Kirkham, J., Schepman, A., Lambert, J., & Locke, A. (2016). The development of shared liking of representational but not abstract art in primary school children and their justifications for liking. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10(21). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00021.

Rogers, K., Dziobek, I., Hassenstab, J., Wolf, O.T., & Convit, A. (2007). Who cares? Revisiting empathy in Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(4), 709-715. doi: 10.1007/s10803-006-0197-8

Rosenstiel, A., Morison, P., Silverman, J., & Gardner, H. (1978). Critical judgment: A developmental study. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 12(4), 95-107.

Savazzi, F., Massaro, D., Di Dio, C., Gallese, V., Gilli, G., & Marchetti, A. (2014). Exploring responses to art in adolescence: A behavioral and eye-tracking study. PLoS ONE 9(7): 1-12 e102888. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102888.

Saxe, R. (2013). The new puzzle of theory of mind development. In M. R. Banaji & S. A. Gelman (eds.), Navigating the social world: What infants, children, and other species can teach us (pp. 107-112). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Schabmann, A., Gerger, G., Schmidt, B.-M., Wögerer, E., Osipov, I. & Leder, H. (2015). Where does it come from? Developmental aspects of art appreciation. International Journal of Behavioral Development. 40(4), 313-323.

Schepman, A., Kirkham, J. A., Rodway, P., Lambert, J., & Locke, A. (2018). Shared meaning in children’s evaluations of art: A computational analysis. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 12(4), Nov 2018, 440-452.

Shusterman, R. (1997). The end of aesthetic experience. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 55, 29-41.

Sigirtmac, D.-A. (2016). An investigation on the effectiveness of chess training on creativity and theory of mind development at early childhood. Academic Journals, 11(11), 1056-1063.

Silvia, P.J., & Brown, E. M. (2007). Anger, disgust, and the negative aesthetic emotions: Expanding an appraisal model of aesthetic experience. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(2), 100-106.

Sousa, D. (2010). How the Arts Develop the Young Brain: Neuroscience Research Is Revealing The Impressive Impact of Arts Instruction On Students’ Cognitive, Social and Emotional Development. Retrieved from :

Takacs, Z.-K., & Bus, A.-G. (2016). Benefits of motion in animated storybooks for children’s visual attention and story comprehension. An eye-tracking study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(177). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00177

Taruffi, T., & Koelsch, S. (2017). Implications of the Vienna integrated model of art perception for art-based interventions in clinical populations. Physics in Life Reviews, 2, 145-147. doi:

Vander, K.-L., & Saybrook, L. (2017). Patterns of theoretical similarity. Grounded Theory Review, 1(16). Retrieved from :

Wang, J.-J., Ali, M., Frisson, S., & Apperly, I.-A. (2017). Language complexity modulates 8- and-10-year-olds’success at using their theory of mind abilities in a communication task. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 149, 62-71.

Weimer, A.-A., Dowds, S.-J.-P., Fabricius, W.-V., Schwanenflugel, P.-J., & Suh, G.-W. (2017). Development of constructivist theory of mind from middle childhood to early adulthood and its relation to social cognition and behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 154, 28-45.

Wellman, H.-M. (2018). Theory of mind: The state of the art. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15(6), 728-755. doi: 10.1080/17405629.2018.1435413

Westby C., & Robinson, L. (2014). A Developmental perspective for promoting theory of mind. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 362–382.

White, B. (2013). Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. In B. White and T. Costantino (eds), Aestethics, Empathy and Education (pp. 99-116). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

White, B., & Costantino, T. (Eds.). (2013). Aestethics, empathy and education. New-York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Wilson, D. (2000). Metarepresentational in linguistic communication. In D. Sperber (ed), Metarepresentations: a Multidisciplinary Perspective (pp. 411-48). Oxford, UK:Oxford University Press.

Worringer, W. (1997). Abstraction and empathy. A contribution to the psychology of style. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee Publisher. (first ed. 1908). Retrieved from:

Zachi, E.-C., Costa, T.-L., Barboni, M.-T.-S., Costa, M.-F., Bonci, D.-M.-O., & Ventura, D.-F. (2017) Color vision losses in autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1127). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.0112