This shows people looking at a statue of a head.
So what does this mean for our everyday lives? Credit: Neuroscience News

How Others’ Perspectives Shape Our Thoughts

Summary: Researchers explored the subtle influence of others’ perspectives on human thinking. In a study involving 234 participants, they used blindfolds to examine whether people process the viewpoint of others spontaneously or if it depends on effort.

Surprisingly, when participants had to infer the perspective from their own experiences, altercentric effects were statistically absent, indicating a complex relationship between attention and perspective processing.

This study challenges previous assumptions about how we subliminally consider others’ viewpoints.

Key Facts:

  1. Altercentric effects refer to how others’ perspectives can influence our perception and behavior, but this study suggests that it might be more nuanced than previously thought.
  2. The research involved participants observing an actress wearing different blindfolds, providing a unique way to study perspective processing.
  3. The level of effort required to infer another person’s perspective plays a significant role in whether we subliminally incorporate it into our thoughts and actions.

Source: Max Plank Society

One of the most important human abilities is to understand what other people are thinking.

The perspective of others seems to influence us even when it is completely irrelevant to us. Katrin Rothmaler and Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig (MPI CBS) have now investigated in a study to what extent the perspective of others actually influences our thinking subliminally.

If we are influenced by the perspective of others in our own perception or our own behavior, this is referred to in science as “altercentric.” It is still unclear whether such altercentric effects can be attributed to universal attentional processes or whether we actually spontaneously process the perspective of our fellow human beings.

To test this, Katrin Rothmaler and her team conducted two independent experiments with a total of 234 participants. At the beginning of the experiments, the participants were familiarized with two blindfolds: one blindfold was transparent, the other was not.

The participants then watched videos in which an actress wore one of these blindfolds. Based on their own experience with the blindfold, the participants were now able to gain the perspective of the actress.

The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Evidence against altercentric effects

Katrin Rothmaler explains the results: “Unlike in previous studies without blindfolds, we were able to find statistical evidence against altercentric effects in the participants’ reaction times in our experiments. At the same time, they were strongly influenced by their own perspective.

“These findings suggest two different interpretations: either altercentric effects are actually only due to simple attentional processes or we cannot implicitly process the perspective of others if we have to infer it from our own experiences.”

So what does this mean for our everyday lives? If we can read the other person’s perspective directly, it can subliminally influence our attention and our behavior.

However, if the other person’s perspective has to be painstakingly developed first, these implicit processes stop. Whether we spontaneously put ourselves in someone else’s shoes therefore depends on how much effort is involved.

About this empathy research news

Author: Katrin Rothmaler 
Source: Max Planck Society
Contact: Katrin Rothmaler  – Max Planck Society
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Evidence against implicit belief processing in a blindfold task” by Katrin Rothmaler et al. PLOS ONE


Evidence against implicit belief processing in a blindfold task

Understanding what other people think is crucial to our everyday interactions. We seem to be affected by the perspective of others even in situations where it is irrelevant to us.

This intrusion from others’ perspectives has been referred to as altercentric bias and has been suggested to reflect implicit belief processing. There is an ongoing debate about how robust such altercentric effects are and whether they indeed reflect true mentalizing or result from simpler, domain-general processes.

As a critical test for true mentalizing, the blindfold manipulation has been proposed. That is, participants are familiarized with a blindfold that is either transparent or opaque.

When they then observe a person wearing this blindfold, they can only infer what this person can or cannot see based on their knowledge of the blindfold’s transparency.

Here, we used this blindfold manipulation to test whether participants’ reaction times in detecting an object depended on the agent’s belief about the object’s location, itself manipulated with a blindfold. As a second task, we asked participants to detect where the agent was going to look for the object.

Across two experiments with a large participant pool (N = 234) and different settings (online/lab), we found evidence against altercentric biases in participants’ response times in detecting the object. We did, however, replicate a well-documented reality congruency effect.

When asked to detect the agent’s action, in turn, participants were biased by their own knowledge of where the object should be, in line with egocentric biases previously found in false belief reasoning.

These findings suggests that altercentric biases do not reflect belief processing but lower-level processes, or alternatively, that implicit belief processing does not occur when the belief needs to be inferred from one’s own experience.

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