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Introspective experiences inform inferences about similar people -- but not dissimilar
Date:3/18/2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Using fMRI scanning, researchers have found that the region of the brain associated with introspective thought is also accessed when inferring the thoughts of other people who are similar to oneself. However, this is not the case when considering those who are different politically, socially, or religiously.

Published in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study was led by Adrianna Jenkins, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, with Jason Mitchell, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. Jenkins and Mitchells co-author was C. Neil Mcrae of the University of Aberdeen.

Our research helps to explain how and when people draw on their own inner experiences to make inferences about the experiences of others, says Jenkins. The findings suggest that the part of the brain that is responsible for introspection also helps us to understand what other people might be thinking or feeling. But this primarily seems to be the case for people who we perceive to be similar to ourselves.

Psychologists have not fully understood how it is that we make numerous, and often accurate, inferences about others thoughts and feelings. Some have theorized that we use aspects of our own experience to model the thoughts of others, while another theory posits that we acquire a knowledge base from observations and societal rules that guides our understanding of others mental states.

This study suggests that both processes may be used in different contexts. We may only use ourselves as a basis for understanding others when we have reason to believe our own minds and experiences are sufficiently similar to those of the other person.

Previous research has shown that the region of the brain associated with self-introspection, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), is also associated with understanding the
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Contact: Amy Lavoie
amy_lavoie@harvard.edu
617-496-9982
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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