Reason-Based Constraint in Theory of Mind

Corey Cusimano, Natalia Zorrilla, David Danks, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In the face of strong evidence that a coin landed heads, can someone simply choose to believe it landed tails? Knowing that a large earthquake could result in personal tragedy, can someone simply choose to desire that it occur? We propose that in the face of strong reasons to adopt a given belief or desire, people are perceived to lack control: they cannot simply believe or desire otherwise. We test this “reason-based constraint” account of mental state change, and find that people reliably judge that evidence constrains belief formation, and utility constrains desire formation, in others. These results were not explained by a heuristic that simply treats irrational mental states as impossible to adopt intentionally. Rather, constraint results from the perceived influence of reasons on reasoning: people judge others as free to adopt irrational attitudes through actions that eliminate their awareness of strong reasons. These findings fill an important gap in our understanding of folk psychological reasoning, with implications for attributions of autonomy and moral responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2021
Event43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021 - Virtual, Online, Austria
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021


Conference43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021
CityVirtual, Online

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction


  • Autonomy
  • Belief
  • Desire
  • Free will
  • Theory of mind


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