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

Jane R. Conway*, Michel Pierre Coll, Hélio Clemente Cuve, Sofia Koletsi, Nicholas Bronitt, Caroline Catmur, Geoffrey Bird

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Using a "theory of mind" allows us to explain and predict others' behavior in terms of their mental states, yet individual differences in the accuracy of mental state inferences are not well understood. We hypothesized that the accuracy of mental state inferences can be explained by the ability to characterize 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 we 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 Mind-space framework can explain some of the individual differences in theory of mind.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association.


  • Individual differences
  • Mind-space
  • Personality
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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