Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds
Seeing a video suggesting that we would learn about how we as people, read what others are thinking, really caught my eye. I already wrote about how I struggle picking up on silent, social cues as well as being able to tell whether or not the person I was talking to was mad. As a funny personal little anecdote: Just recently, I mustered up the courage to talk to a boy and ask for his number. I texted him as a suggestion from my friend, but, he gave no response after 2 and a half days. Of course now I’m thinking, oh my gosh I made such a mistake. What was I thinking? What is he thinking? Why didn’t he respond? Why hasn’t this boy texted me back? This seems like a trivial problem, but when a boy I’m interested, or any other person in fact, doesn’t respond to my messages (whether that be through facebook messenger, text, DM, email, etc) I get super upset and anxious, wondering about what the other person is thinking on the other side.
This talk basically surrounded the problem of why it is hard to “know what somebody else wants” as well as “how is it so easy to know people’s minds.” Rebecca, the TED Talk speaker, began with showing a picture of a mother looking down (fondly) at her baby. She said that of course we could assume what the mother was thinking at that moment. Rebecca is a cognitive neuroscientist. She created a project and basically discovered the special place in our brains dedicated especially to think about what other’s might think- called the “Parietal Junction. It’s used just for the purpose of understanding others.
She also points out that it takes an extensive amount of time to develop this skill of understanding others. Understanding beliefs different from their own is something that we learned in psychology that it is no easy task and is not fully developed till adulthood. A standard puzzle false belief task was used. The kid at age 5 understood that other people get false beliefs and understands that there are consequences with those. The kid at age 3 could not see the other’s point of view. So, the three year old comes up with an alternative explanation. At age seven is when another kid finally says that the wind, not the person is to blame. The same is repeated for moral judgement. Rebecca’s study sent kids to get their brain scanned to track ability development. The children’s parietal junction’s This shows again, the continuous development of the human mind, especially in that parietal junction region.
The cognitive and brain system develops slowly. Even in adulthood, some adults vary in degrees of aptitude when thinking of others’ thoughts. Rebecca showed us some evidence that implied that it would be possible to see how adults think and how to actually change those thoughts slightly. I found the adult end results most interesting. Another example was used for the adults. It was basically talking about intent and how much blame if any the culprit should get for giving powder to another that was thought by her to be poison. Using the TMS: Trans-Cranial Magnetic Stimulation tool, a magnetic pulse was passed through the skull into that brain region which temporarily scrambled the neural functions in that space. If there was less activity in that region, people said the culprit deserved a lot of brain. If there was a lot of activity on the right side of the brain, people thought she deserved less brain for the accident.
To me, the presenter was very knowledgable as well as trustworthy. She spoke in a tone that was easy to understand and seemed to really say things with an authoritative tone, implying her understand of the research done. The way she stood up and talked as well as giving example after example of what had happened: case studies with kids, bringing up MIT student brains, saying that she took brain scans of both kids and adults,… really convinced me that the material was truthful especially when she seemed to speak with good intentions. Also, she never paused. I find when the presenter smoothly presents her work, I am more inclined to think that he or she knows what he or she is talking about.
A research idea of my own would be to test how long the usual Austin College boy waits to text a girl back. This a petty test, but humor me. Based on the talk, I would use another method to perform some tests asking people of their opinions. I would ask a random selection of boys freshman to senior year to listen to a scenario. It would take a while, but I would say something along the lines of: “A girl named Sophie texts you. You two hit it off and she gives you her number. How long would you wait to text her back.” So, in this case, the boy will need to realize that he should, in the scenario, already show interest in Sophie. Then, I would record all the results of how many hours or days or even if he replies at all. Then, I would find a region of the brain from past literature that showed thoughts about these things and then use that same TMS tool to see what would happen if I were to touch that region in the brain and then I would record my results.