Summary: A new study reveals that individuals with stronger ‘mindreading’ abilities, or the capacity to understand others’ feelings and intentions, are more successful in cooperative tasks. This trait, also known as ‘theory of mind,’ is not directly tied to intelligence and can potentially be improved through training programs.
The research demonstrated that those with high theory of mind were more effective in cooperation, particularly when paired with individuals with similar abilities. The study underlines the potential to foster enhanced cooperation in various settings like schools, workplaces, or colleges by improving these abilities.
Stronger ‘mindreading’ abilities or ‘theory of mind’ enhances a person’s cooperation skills, as per the research by the University of Birmingham.
Theory of mind is not directly tied to intelligence and can be improved through training.
The study shows that even if an individual has excellent mindreading abilities, cooperation is more effective when the partner has similar abilities.
Source: University of Birmingham
A person’s ‘mindreading ability’ can predict how well they are able to cooperate, even with people they have never met before.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that people with strong mind reading abilities – the ability to understand and take the perspective of another person’s feelings and intentions– are more successful in cooperating to complete tasks than people with weaker mind reading abilities.
These qualities, also called ‘theory of mind’, are not necessarily related to intelligence and could be improved through training programmes to foster improved cooperation, for example in the workplace or in schools and colleges.
Lead researcher Roksana Markiewicz explained: “As a psychology researcher, I often get asked if I can read minds and while this is often said to me as a joke, humans do have mindreading abilities. Our study shows that these qualities are clearly important in activities that require cooperation.”
In the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: LMC, the team measured theory of mind in over 400 participants. Participants were then sorted into pairs and joined a researcher on a zoom call where they played a series of communication games.
Each player had a set of visual clues on their screen, which could not be viewed by their partner. They had to communicate about the different sets of clues and use them together to solve a puzzle.
Players who had high theory of mind (ToM) abilities and who were matched with people who had similarly high ToM scores cooperated more effectively than players matched with low ToM abilities. The researchers suggest that this is because of a heightened ability to align in the same mental space and to recover rapidly when misalignment occurs.
Similarly, the researchers found that failures in cooperation were more common among participants with low ToM abilities. They suggest this is because these participants found it harder to find ways to align their thinking, leading to more frequent mistakes, and poorer recovery from mistakes.
“We show for the first time that cooperation is not all about you,” says Roksana. “Even if you have excellent mindreading abilities yourself, it will still be advantageous to cooperate with someone with similar abilities, so choose your cooperation partner wisely!”
About this psychology and theory of mind research news
It’s not all about you: Communicative cooperation is determined by your partner’s theory of mind abilities as well as your own
We investigated the relationship between Theory of Mind (ToM) and communicative cooperation. Specifically, we examined whether communicative cooperation is affected by the ToM ability of one’s cooperative partner as well as their own.
ToM is the attribution of mental states to oneself and others; cooperation the joint action that leads to achieving a shared goal. We measured cooperation using a novel communicative cooperation game completed by participants in pairs.
ToM was measured via the Movies for Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) task, fluid intelligence via the Raven task. Findings of 350 adults show that ToM scores of both players were predictors of cooperative failure, whereas Raven scores were not.
Further, participants were split into low- and high-ToM groups through a median split of the MASC scores: high ToM individuals committed significantly fewer cooperative errors compared to their low ToM counterparts.
Therefore, we found a direct relationship between ToM and cooperation. Interestingly, we also examined how ToM scores of paired participants determine cooperation.
We found that pairs with two high ToM individuals committed significantly fewer errors compared to pairs with two low ToM individuals. We speculate that reduced cooperation in low-low ToM pairs is a result of less efficient development of conceptual alignment and recovery from misalignment, compared to high-high ToM dyads.
For the first time, we thus demonstrate that it is not all about you; both cooperative partners make key, independent, contributions to cooperative outcomes.