• Being Sherlock Holmes Can we sense empathy from a brief sample of behaviour

      Wu, W.; Sheppard, E.; Mitchell, Peter (2016-02)
      Mentalizing (otherwise known as ‘theory of mind’) involves a special process that is adapted for predicting and explaining the behaviour of others (targets) based on inferences about targets’ beliefs and character. This research investigated how well participants made inferences about an especially apposite aspect of character, empathy. Participants were invited to make inferences of self‐rated empathy after watching or listening to an unfamiliar target for a few seconds telling a scripted joke (or answering questions about him/herself or reading aloud a paragraph of promotional material). Across three studies, participants were good at identifying targets with low and high self‐rated empathy but not good at identifying those who are average. Such inferences, especially of high self‐rated empathy, seemed to be based mainly on clues in the target's behaviour, presented either in a video, a still photograph or in an audio track. However, participants were not as effective in guessing which targets had low or average self‐rated empathy from a still photograph showing a neutral pose or from an audio track. We conclude with discussion of the scope and the adaptive value of this inferential ability.
    • How accurately can other people infer your thoughts - And does culture matter?

      Valanides, C.; Sheppard, E.; Mitchell, Peter (2017-11)
      This research investigated how accurately people infer what others are thinking after observing a brief sample of their behaviour and whether culture/similarity is a relevant factor. Target participants (14 British and 14 Mediterraneans) were cued to think about either positive or negative events they had experienced. Subsequently, perceiver participants (16 British and 16 Mediterraneans) watched videos of the targets thinking about these things. Perceivers (both groups) were significantly accurate in judging when targets had been cued to think of something positive versus something negative, indicating notable inferential ability. Additionally, Mediterranean perceivers were better than British perceivers in making such inferences, irrespective of nationality of the targets, something that was statistically accounted for by corresponding group differences in levels of independently measured collectivism. The results point to the need for further research to investigate the possibility that being reared in a collectivist culture fosters ability in interpreting others’ behaviour.