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

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


The human ability to make inferences about the minds of conspecifics is remarkable. The majority of work in this area focuses on mental state representation (‘theory of mind’), but has had limited success in explaining individual differences in this ability, and is characterized by the lack of a theoretical framework that can account for the effect of variability inthe population of minds to which individuals are exposed.We draw analogies between faces and minds as complex social stimuli, and suggest thattheoretical and empirical progress on understanding the mechanisms underlying mind representation can be achieved by adopting a ‘Mind-space’framework; that minds, like faces, are represented withina multidimensional psychological space. This Mind-space framework can accommodate the representation of whole cognitive systems, and may help to explain individual differences in the consistency and accuracy with which the mental states of others are inferred. Mind-space may also have relevance for understanding human development, inter-group relations, and the atypical socialcognitionseen in several clinical conditions.

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Published in

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 149, n. 6, June 2020, pp. 1032–1047