Developing accurate inferences about others’ likely concerns, expectations, priorities, and actions is essential for successful social interactions in setting goals and mitigating risks.
University College London’s Demis Hassabis collaborated with R. Nathan Spreng of Cornell University, Vrije Universiteit’s Andrei A. Rusu, Harvard’s Clifford A. Robbins and Daniel Schacter, and Raymond A. Mar of York University to investigate how the brain develops predictions about others’ thoughts and behaviors.
Volunteers read about four fictional protagonists’ personality traits (Agreeableness, Extraversion) in experimental scenarios, then imagined each character’s behaviors in different situations.
Each volunteer then participated in fMRI brain scans.
Medial prefrontal cortex activity in the brain was associated with accurate inferences about protagonists’ personality characteristics and behaviors, demonstrating that “brain activity can reveal whom someone is thinking about,” according to Hassabis and team.
In addition, Team Hassabis noted that lateral temporal cingulate cortex activity occurred with participants accurately determined protagonists’ degree of agreeableness, whereas activity in the posterior cingulate cortex activity was associated with correct judgments of protagonists’ degree of extraversion.
Hassabis’s group also determined that brain regions responsible for processing inferences of personality traits and related behaviors are functionally coupled with areas active in differentiating individual identities.
This means that specific brain regions “code” inferred personality traits in others and synthesize these characteristics into “personality models” that represent individuals and their likely behavior in new situations.
Matthew Hertenstein teamed with DePauw University colleagues Brittany Bulleit and Ariane Jaskolka, UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner and Betsy App of University of Denver to demonstrate that people can infer others’ emotional intentions through unseen touch.
The researcher investigated whether 200 volunteers between the ages of 18-40 working in pairs were able to accurately identify emotional intentions when touched.
Participants in the United States and Spain accurately perceived anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy conveyed by unseen touch at statistically significant levels, but not happiness, sadness, surprise, embarrassment, envy, or pride.
Observers also accurately identified emotions conveyed by participants’ “tactile displays” when they touched paired volunteers.
Gian Gonzaga of UCLA extended these findings to consider inferring and detecting emotion in male-female communication pairs with Keltner and University of Wisconsin’s Daniel Ward.
Guided by Keltner’s “approach/inhibition theory of power,” in their experiments, they attributed high power to one volunteer in a communication pair and compared communications when both people were in an equal-power condition during teasing interactions between women and men.
They found that participants endowed with high power showed behavioral disinhibition, and made less accurate judgments of the communication partner’s emotion.
In contrast individuals in the low-power role demonstrated more behavioral inhibition and reported greater self-conscious and anxiety.
Gonzaga and team confirmed men in engaged in power behaviors even when participants were attributed equal power, and this trend was greatest when man were assigned the power role while interacting with a female partner.
This behavior was less apparent when both participants were men, confirming the continuing existence of power differentials between women and men.
The team found gender-related “emotion blindness” when male-female pairs misinterpreted each other’s attempts to convey specific emotions, confirming popular observations and reports by couples therapists.
Male pairs were able to accurately detect anger, but men did not understand women’s attempts to convey anger in male-female pairs.
In contrast, women did not accurately detect men’s attempts to convey compassion, but female pairs accurately perceived expressions of happiness.
Sympathy was accurately communicated only when at least one woman was in the volunteer pair, demonstrating gender-related limitations to accurate empathy and emotionally intelligent interpersonal inferences.
-*How do you develop accurate inferences about others’ opinions and likely behaviors?
-*How do you revise your models of others’ personalities?
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