Understanding How Minds Vary Relates to Skill in Inferring Mental States, Personality, and Intelligence

Jane Rebecca Conway, Michel-Pierre Coll, Helio Clemente Cuve, Sofia Koletsi, Nicholas Bronitt, Caroline Catmur, Geoffrey Bird

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Abstract

Using a ‘theory of mind’ allows us to explain and predict others’ behaviour in terms
of their mental states, yet individual differences in the accuracy of mental state
inferences are not well understood. We hypothesised that the accuracy of mental state
inferences can be explained by the ability to characterise the mind giving rise to the
mental state. Under this proposal, individuals differentiate between minds by
representing them in ‘Mind-space’ – a multidimensional space where dimensions
reflect any characteristic of minds that allows them to be individuated. Individual
differences in the representation of minds and the accuracy of mental state inferences
are explained by one’s model of how minds can vary (Mind-space), and ability to
locate an individual mind within this space. We measured the accuracy of
participants’ model of the covariance between dimensions in Mind-space that
represent personality traits, and found this was associated with the accuracy of mental
state inference (Experiment 1). Mind-space accuracy also predicted the ability to
locate others within Mind-space on dimensions of personality and intelligence
(Experiment 2). Direct evidence for the representation of minds in mental state
inference was obtained by showing that the location of others in Mind-space affects
the probability of particular mental states being ascribed to them (Experiment 3). This
latter effect extended to mental states dependent upon representation of trait
covariation (Experiment 4). Results support the claim that mental state inference
varies according to location in Mind-space, and therefore that adopting the Mindspace
framework can explain some of the individual differences in theory of mind.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Sept 2019

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