Theory of Mind experience sampling in typical adults

Lauren Bryant, Anna Coffey, Daniel J. Povinelli, John R. Pruett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

We explored the frequency with which typical adults make Theory of Mind (ToM) attributions, and under what circumstances these attributions occur. We used an experience sampling method to query 30 typical adults about their everyday thoughts. Participants carried a Personal Data Assistant (PDA) that prompted them to categorize their thoughts as Action, Mental State, or Miscellaneous at approximately 30 pseudo-random times during a continuous 10-h period. Additionally, participants noted the direction of their thought (self versus other) and degree of socializing (with people versus alone) at the time of inquiry. We were interested in the relative frequency of ToM (mental state attributions) and how prominent they were in immediate social exchanges. Analyses of multiple choice answers suggest that typical adults: (1) spend more time thinking about actions than mental states and miscellaneous things, (2) exhibit a higher degree of own- versus other-directed thought when alone, and (3) make mental state attributions more frequently when not interacting (offline) than while interacting with others (online). A significant 3-way interaction between thought type, direction of thought, and socializing emerged because action but not mental state thoughts about others occurred more frequently when participants were interacting with people versus when alone; whereas there was an increase in the frequency of both action and mental state attributions about the self when participants were alone as opposed to socializing. A secondary analysis of coded free text responses supports findings 1-3. The results of this study help to create a more naturalistic picture of ToM use in everyday life and the method shows promise for future study of typical and atypical thought processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-707
Number of pages11
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Volume22
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Keywords

  • Experience sampling
  • Folk psychology
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of Mind

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