To successfully cooperate or compete with other people in everyday life, it is important to know what the other person thinks, feels, or wants.

For a long time, it was assumed that people depended exclusively on a single strategy: mind reading. This means that people deduce the mental states of others solely on the basis of their behavior. Recently, however, this ability has been relegated to the background.

Strategies for understanding others

Today, researchers assume that people combine various strategies to understand others. They can directly perceive that a person is stressed based on physical characteristics and other contextual cues, but they can also predict what a person will do next based on learned rules of behavior, without having to infer and attribute a mental state, as a new study suggests.

“We argue that mind reading is more than an unreliable and rarely used backup strategy in this context: it plays an important role in social cognition,” he summarizes. Albert newen, principal investigator of this new study.

The authors identify three criteria that could be used to test the importance of mind reading: how often it is used, how central it is, and how reliable it is.