My Mind . . . or Your Mind Notes

My Mind . . . or Your Mind Notes - My Mind or Your Mind...

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My Mind . . . or Your Mind Adam Brandenburger * Version 01/14/15 “When I am getting ready to reason with a man I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say, and two-thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.” – Abraham Lincoln 1 Introduction It is a commonplace that good strategists try to put themselves in the shoes — better, the heads — of other players in order to predict what those other players will do. In this note we will look at what the cognitive sciences have to say about this process, and at some hints on how to improve at it. 2 Theory of Mind and Empathy In cognitive science, two terms, Theory of Mind ( ToM ) and empathy , are used to refer to the process of connecting to other people’s minds. By ToM is meant “the capacity to infer and represent another person’s intentions, desires, or beliefs.” 1 By empathy is meant “the ability to share the feelings of others.” 2 The term “Theory of Mind” was coined in a famous 1978 paper written by primatologists David Premack and Guy Woodruff, 3 which investigated whether chimpanzees possess this capability. Since then, ToM capability and its development in infants has been studied both in humans and in a number of other species. It is important not to confuse ToM and empathy. As the definitions we gave above indicate, the first is a cognitive process and the second is an affective process. Furthermore, the two processes appear to use different neural circuits. 4 In the remainder of this note, we will focus on the cognitive process of ToM. 3 Neuroscience of ToM A common exercise in ToM studies is to present subjects with stories (verbal or visual) involving social situations with several characters and then to test the ToM ability of subjects by asking them to answer questions about what they think a character is thinking, and the like. 5 Investigation using * Stern School of Business, Polytechnic School of Engineering, Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making, Center for Data Science, New York University, New York, NY 10012, U.S.A., [email protected], adambrandenburger.com.
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neuroimaging technology of subjects engaged in such exercises has identified several regions of the human brain active in ToM processing: 6 temporal poles (TP) posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) The TP and the STS appear to involve neural processes that support ToM, but stop somewhat short, while the mPFC is where the actual representation of mental states occurs. 7 The TP are activated in exercises involving language, such as comparing sentences with random word strings, and in exercises involving memory retrieval. These regions may therefore build up what are sometimes called “scripts” 8 (somewhat like those for a play or a film) that facilitate predicting how others will behave in the future. The STS is activated on reception of inputs (motion, sound, light) about the behavior of other living agents. Underlying knowledge about the behavior of living agents, together
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