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

thoughts and feelings of others.

Jenkins and colleagues tested whether individuals are more likely to access this self-referential region of the brain when considering the thoughts of a similar person or someone who is different. They used fMRI scans to examine brain activity when individuals were asked about their thoughts or feelings regarding an everyday experience, and what they imagine that another person might think or feel about a similar everyday experience.

The study involved 13 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from colleges and universities in the Boston area, who identified themselves as politically liberal at the end of the study.

At the beginning of the study, the subjects were shown photographs of two unfamiliar individuals, and then read a brief descriptive paragraph about each. One individual was described as a student at a college in the Northeast, with liberal political and social attitudes, and one as a conservative, fundamentalist Christian at a large university in the Midwest.

The students were then asked a series of questions about their own thoughts or feelings, and the thoughts or feelings of the liberal or conservative individual. The questions pertained to everyday experiences such as, How much do you enjoy doing crossword puzzles? or, How likely is it that he would get frustrated while sitting in traffic?

By examining the brains activity in the vMPFC, the researchers were able to see that the individuals used a similar thought process when considering their own reactions to the questions, and the reactions of the individual that was identified as a liberal college student in the Northeast. However, the researchers did not see similar activity in this region of the brain when the subjects were considering the thoughts and preferences of the conservative, Midwestern students.

According to Jenkins, its possible that we rely on our own perspective to assess the potentia
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Contact: Amy Lavoie
amy_lavoie@harvard.edu
617-496-9982
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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