Psychologists study perception of mind

February 7, 2007

U.S. psychologists have determined people perceive the minds of others using two distinct dimensions, rather than one as previously believed.

Harvard University psychologists, in an online survey of more than 2,000 people, found most people understand the minds of others by agency (an individual's ability for self-control, morality and planning) and experience (the capacity to feel sensations such as hunger, fear and pain).

The findings, say the researchers, provide a framework for understanding many moral and legal decisions and highlight the subjective nature of perceiving mental attributes in others.

"Important societal beliefs, such as those about capital punishment, abortion and the legitimacy of torture, rest on perceptions of these dimensions, as do beliefs about a number of philosophical questions," said co-author Kurt Gray, a doctoral student.

Gray, who worked with psychologists Heather Gray and Daniel Wegner on the study, added: "Respondents, the majority of whom were at least moderately religious, viewed God as an agent capable of moral action, but without much capacity for experience. We find it hard to envision God sharing any of our feelings or desires."

The study appears in the journal Science.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International

Explore further: Does Pixar's Inside Out show how memory actually works?

Related Stories

Does Pixar's Inside Out show how memory actually works?

June 22, 2015

Disney/Pixar's newest film, Inside Out, tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and her difficulty dealing with a family move to San Francisco. The film is getting a lot of attention for its depiction of emotion and memory.

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.