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PLOS ONE  2012 

Can People Guess What Happened to Others from Their Reactions?

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049859

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Abstract:

Are we able to infer what happened to a person from a brief sample of his/her behaviour? It has been proposed that mentalising skills can be used to retrodict as well as predict behaviour, that is, to determine what mental states of a target have already occurred. The current study aimed to develop a paradigm to explore these processes, which takes into account the intricacies of real-life situations in which reasoning about mental states, as embodied in behaviour, may be utilised. A novel task was devised which involved observing subtle and naturalistic reactions of others in order to determine the event that had previously taken place. Thirty-five participants viewed videos of real individuals reacting to the researcher behaving in one of four possible ways, and were asked to judge which of the four ‘scenarios’ they thought the individual was responding to. Their eye movements were recorded to establish the visual strategies used. Participants were able to deduce successfully from a small sample of behaviour which scenario had previously occurred. Surprisingly, looking at the eye region was associated with poorer identification of the scenarios, and eye movement strategy varied depending on the event experienced by the person in the video. This suggests people flexibly deploy their attention using a retrodictive mindreading process to infer events.

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