Novel theory of mind task demonstrates representation of minds in mental state inference

Emily L. Long*, Hélio Clemente Cuve, Jane Rebecca Conway, Caroline Catmur, Geoffrey Bird

*Corresponding author for this work

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Theory of mind (ToM), the ability to represent the mental states of oneself and others, is argued to be central to human social experience, and impairments in this ability are thought to underlie several psychiatric and developmental conditions. To examine the accuracy of mental state inferences, a novel ToM task was developed, requiring inferences to be made about the mental states of ‘Targets’, prior participants who took part in a videoed mock interview. Participants also made estimates of the Targets’ personality traits. These inferences were compared to ground-truth data, provided by the Targets, of their true traits and mental states. Results from 55 adult participants demonstrated that trait inferences were used to derive mental state inferences, and that the accuracy of trait estimates predicted the accuracy of mental state inferences. Moreover, the size and direction of the association between trait accuracy and mental state accuracy varied according to the trait—mental state combination. The accuracy of trait inferences was predicted by the accuracy of participants’ understanding of trait covariation at the population level. Findings are in accordance with the Mind-space theory, that representation of the Target mind is used in the inference of their mental states.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21133
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This publication was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. E.L.L. was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (2420999). J.R.C. acknowledges support from ANR-17-EURE-0010 and SFI-IRC 21/PATH-A/9615.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

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