Empathy – a simple word that speaks volumes.
I had been interested in empathy ever since my psychology teacher in high school said that empathy was one of the little ingredients that could make or break a person. Our classroom discussion went on like this:
Teacher: Suppose you go to school every day with your head held too high, and you cannot be bothered to look at classmates who need your help. What will happen when you need help from them?
Student: No one will pay attention to you.
Teacher: Correct! What do you think will happen if you always try to understand others and find a way to help them?
Student: They will do the same for you.
Teacher: Yes, that’s correct! Acting like the student in the first scene shows that you have zero empathy and do not care about other people. As a result, they will not waste their energy trying to care for you. Consequently, when you become empathic towards others, they will not hesitate to return the favor anytime.
Me: Why do people react that way?
Teacher: Everything boils down to the theory of mind.
What is the theory of mind, and how does it develop?
The theory of mind refers to a person’s ability to understand how others think or feel. According to studies, it starts as early as infancy. For instance, when a baby sees their parents crying, they may do the same even if they cannot possibly know what has caused their mom and dad to cry.
When the kids reach early childhood, that’s when they manage to connect actions to emotions. It also evident in children who throw a fit at the mall when they can’t get the toys they want, knowing that their parents will have no choice but to buy the toys to stop their tantrums. Similarly, the kids may realize that the adults may not believe what they are saying unless they show it.
As they grow up, these youngsters will predict what someone will say or feel before doing it. They may also understand the real meaning behind others’ actions and expressions.
Who came up with the theory of mind?
David Premack and Guy Woodruff thought of using the term “theory of mind” in 1978.
Is the theory of mind universal?
Yes, the original assumption is that the theory of mind is universal. Various studies have tried to disprove it, but they have failed to do so.
What is the theory of mind and autism?
The theory of mind pertains to understanding an individual’s feelings and thoughts before they even open their mouths or change their expressions or behaviors. However, studies have shown that people in the autism spectrum find it challenging to figure out others’ minds. As a result, they cannot communicate properly with other folks.
How does the mind develop?
The mind develops by allowing people to gain new experiences. The development can begin when an infant starts to see their surroundings and recognize faces, colors, or situations. For instance, if they are used to seeing their mom or dad all the time, they may know it if another person is in front of them. Then, they either cry or let others hold them – a sign that the baby is aware of the stranger and feels either scared or curious.
Can you teach the theory of mind?
Yes, you can teach the theory of mind. Many specialists tend to train autistic individuals to recognize, analyze, and interpret others’ emotions and actions. This way, they can interact with people and lead a regular life.
What is the theory of mind example?
Hunger is an ideal example of the theory of mind. Since you feel hungry, you want to act on your desire to eat any food to get your hands on. Then, you realize that others can feel that way out of hunger, too. In this case, the theory of mind is somehow connected to the attribution theory.
Kindness is another example of the theory of mind. When you show compassion towards others, you can make them happy. This emotion is revealed through a smile, a handshake, or even a hug, which lets you know that being kind can result in positive things.
Is the theory of mind an executive function?
An executive function pertains to a neural process that dictates how you will behave, think, and feel during a particular situation. Since executive functions develop in the same brain area related to the theory of mind, many experts believe that the latter is an executive function.
What is the false belief in the theory of mind?
Specialists use the false-belief task to assess a kid’s mental development.
Suppose a boy and a girl are asked to bring two lunchboxes to the cafeteria. Both have a sandwich in each lunchbox, but only the girl has a juice box. When she gets up, she does not see the boy move the juice box to his lunchbox before leaving, too.
The girl will fail the task if the teacher tells her to bring out the juice box, and she opens the boy’s lunchbox, knowing full well that it is not supposed to be there. She will succeed if she goes straight to her lunchbox.
How does the false belief test measure development of the theory of mind?
The false-belief test is typically used to measure kids’ development between the ages of 4 and 5, considering that’s when they start deductive reasoning. What happens is that the specialist presents two options, and they need to choose the correct one. Say, between a pen and chalk, what will you use to write on a blackboard?
If the child picks chalk, it entails that their mind is developing well. In case they select the pen, they fail the false-belief test. The reality is that people with autism tend to fail this test.
The theory of mind has had such a massive impact on my teenage self that I ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology for this reason. It turned out to be an incredible decision, given that I went on to become a licensed psychologist and help many people understand the positive and negative effects of their actions.