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The two-systems account of theory of mind: testing the links to social- perceptual and cognitive abilities


Meinhardt-Injac, Bozan; Daum, Moritz M; Meinhardt, Günter; Persike, Malte (2018). The two-systems account of theory of mind: testing the links to social- perceptual and cognitive abilities. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12:25.

Abstract

According to the two-systems account of theory of mind (ToM), understanding mental states of others involves both fast social-perceptual processes, as well as slower, reflexive cognitive operations (Frith and Frith, 2008; Apperly and Butterfill, 2009). To test the respective roles of specific abilities in either of these processes we administered 15 experimental procedures to a large sample of 343 participants, testing ability in face recognition and holistic perception, language, and reasoning. ToM was measured by a set of tasks requiring ability to track and to infer complex emotional and mental states of others from faces, eyes, spoken language, and prosody. We used structural equation modeling to test the relative strengths of a social-perceptual (face processing related) and reflexive-cognitive (language and reasoning related) path in predicting ToM ability. The two paths accounted for 58% of ToM variance, thus validating a general two-systems framework. Testing specific predictor paths revealed language and face recognition as strong and significant predictors of ToM. For reasoning, there were neither direct nor mediated effects, albeit reasoning was strongly associated with language. Holistic face perception also failed to show a direct link with ToM ability, while there was a mediated effect via face recognition. These results highlight the respective roles of face recognition and language for the social brain, and contribute closer empirical specification of the general two-systems account.

Abstract

According to the two-systems account of theory of mind (ToM), understanding mental states of others involves both fast social-perceptual processes, as well as slower, reflexive cognitive operations (Frith and Frith, 2008; Apperly and Butterfill, 2009). To test the respective roles of specific abilities in either of these processes we administered 15 experimental procedures to a large sample of 343 participants, testing ability in face recognition and holistic perception, language, and reasoning. ToM was measured by a set of tasks requiring ability to track and to infer complex emotional and mental states of others from faces, eyes, spoken language, and prosody. We used structural equation modeling to test the relative strengths of a social-perceptual (face processing related) and reflexive-cognitive (language and reasoning related) path in predicting ToM ability. The two paths accounted for 58% of ToM variance, thus validating a general two-systems framework. Testing specific predictor paths revealed language and face recognition as strong and significant predictors of ToM. For reasoning, there were neither direct nor mediated effects, albeit reasoning was strongly associated with language. Holistic face perception also failed to show a direct link with ToM ability, while there was a mediated effect via face recognition. These results highlight the respective roles of face recognition and language for the social brain, and contribute closer empirical specification of the general two-systems account.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:31 Jan 2018 13:16
Last Modified:30 Jul 2018 06:59
Publisher:Frontiers Research Foundation
ISSN:1662-5161
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00025
Project Information:
  • : FunderInternal University Research Funding grant (“Inneruniversitäre Forschungsförderung”) of the Johannes-Gutenberg University
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title

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