Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Introspective Experiences Inform Inferences About Similar People -- But Not Dissimilar

Date:
March 20, 2008
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Brain imaging illustrates that the same region of the brain is used for thoughts of self and similar others. Researchers have shown that we use the region of the brain associated with introspection to make inferences about the thoughts and feelings of people that we perceive to be similar, but not those that are dissimilar.

Using fMRI scanning, researchers have found that the region of the brain associated with introspective thought is also accessed when inferring the thoughts of other people who are similar to oneself. However, this is not the case when considering those who are different politically, socially, or religiously.

Published in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study was led by Adrianna Jenkins, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, with Jason Mitchell, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. Jenkins and Mitchell's co-author was C. Neil Mcrae of the University of Aberdeen.

"Our research helps to explain how and when people draw on their own inner experiences to make inferences about the experiences of others," says Jenkins. "The findings suggest that the part of the brain that is responsible for introspection also helps us to understand what other people might be thinking or feeling. But this primarily seems to be the case for people who we perceive to be similar to ourselves."

Psychologists have not fully understood how it is that we make numerous, and often accurate, inferences about others' thoughts and feelings. Some have theorized that we use aspects of our own experience to model the thoughts of others, while another theory posits that we acquire a knowledge base from observations and societal rules that guides our understanding of others' mental states.

This study suggests that both processes may be used in different contexts. We may only use ourselves as a basis for understanding others when we have reason to believe our own minds and experiences are sufficiently similar to those of the other person.

Previous research has shown that the region of the brain associated with self-introspection, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), is also associated with understanding the thoughts and feelings of others.

Jenkins and colleagues tested whether individuals are more likely to access this self-referential region of the brain when considering the thoughts of a similar person or someone who is different. They used fMRI scans to examine brain activity when individuals were asked about their thoughts or feelings regarding an everyday experience, and what they imagine that another person might think or feel about a similar everyday experience.

The study involved 13 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from colleges and universities in the Boston area, who identified themselves as politically liberal at the end of the study.

At the beginning of the study, the subjects were shown photographs of two unfamiliar individuals, and then read a brief descriptive paragraph about each. One individual was described as a student at a college in the Northeast, with liberal political and social attitudes, and one as a conservative, fundamentalist Christian at a large university in the Midwest.

The students were then asked a series of questions about their own thoughts or feelings, and the thoughts or feelings of the liberal or conservative individual. The questions pertained to everyday experiences such as, "How much do you enjoy doing crossword puzzles?" or, "How likely is it that he would get frustrated while sitting in traffic?"

By examining the brain's activity in the vMPFC, the researchers were able to see that the individuals used a similar thought process when considering their own reactions to the questions, and the reactions of the individual that was identified as a liberal college student in the Northeast. However, the researchers did not see similar activity in this region of the brain when the subjects were considering the thoughts and preferences of the conservative, Midwestern students.

According to Jenkins, it's possible that we rely on our own perspective to assess the potential thoughts and feelings of people who we think are similar, while we may make inferences regarding the thoughts of dissimilar others based on a different process.

Further research will examine whether it is possible to manipulate this effect, and utilize the more introspective thought process when assessing the feelings of dissimilar others.

A forthcoming study in Psychological Science, led by Daniel Ames with Jenkins, Mitchell and Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Harvard, considers whether or not the application of this self-referential thought process is immutable. The results of this study suggest that when an individual assumes another's perspective, in this case by writing a short essay from the perspective of another person, he or she is more likely to later use the vMPFC region of the brain when later making inferences regarding that person's thoughts or feelings.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, National Center for Research Resources, the Mental Illness and Neuro-science Discovery Institute, and a Royal Society-Wolfson Fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Introspective Experiences Inform Inferences About Similar People -- But Not Dissimilar." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080318110333.htm>.
Harvard University. (2008, March 20). Introspective Experiences Inform Inferences About Similar People -- But Not Dissimilar. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080318110333.htm
Harvard University. "Introspective Experiences Inform Inferences About Similar People -- But Not Dissimilar." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080318110333.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

App Teaches Kindergarteners to Code

App Teaches Kindergarteners to Code

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) They can't all read yet, but soon kindergarteners may be able to create basic computer code. Researchers in Massachusetts developed an app that teaches young kids a simple computer programming language. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) More and more studies are showing positive benefits to playing video games, but the jury is still out on brain training programs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Research from Washington University suggest people with conscientious spouses have greater career success. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Researchers say certain markers in the blood can predict risk of psychosis later in the life. The test can aid in early treatment for the condition. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins