Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target article

How we know our minds: The illusion of first-person knowledge of intentionality

Alison Gopnika1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 Electronic mail:


As adults we believe that our knowledge of our own psychological states is substantially different from our knowledge of the psychological states of others: First-person knowledge comes directly from experience, but third-person knowledge involves inference. Developmental evidence suggests otherwise. Many 3-year-old children are consistently wrong in reporting some of their own immediately past psychological states and show similar difficulties reporting the psychological states of others. At about age 4 there is an important developmental shift to a representational model of the mind. This affects children's understanding of their own minds as well as the minds of others. Our sense that our perception of our own minds is direct may be analogous to many cases where expertise provides an illusion of direct perception. These empirical findings have important implications for debates about the foundations of cognitive science.