Two strategies used to study mental-state inference are theorization, inference through behavior, and simulation, self-projection, but effectiveness varies based on biases in people’s intuitions. Haotian Zhou Ph.D. et al. of Shanghai Tech University predicted the bias in favor of theorization because people assume behavior is reflective of the mind.
In the first experiment, twelve “experiencers” viewed emotional pictures. Experiencers reported their feelings ranging from -4, extremely negative, to 4, extremely positive. Another seventy-three participants were “predictors,” who predicted emotion ratings of experiencers. These predictors were assigned to one of three groups: simultaneous, simulation, and theorization; these groups correspond to being shown an emotional picture viewed with a video of the experiencer, an emotional picture shown with a picture of the experiencer, and a video of the experiencer, respectively. Predictors were most accurate when simulating (t(70) = 7.26, p < .001).
In the second experiment, ninety-two participants were recruited to be predictors for experiencers from the first experiment. Predictors were assigned to the “no-choice” condition (then assigned to simulation/theorization) or “binding-choice” condition (shown a video on the strategies and chose one). Participants were less accurate when they chose a strategy (t(91) = −1.72, p = .09, CLES = 41.65%).
In the third experiment, nineteen participants were recruited for the same procedure as the first experiment but did not know they were being filmed. 180 participants were predictors randomly assigned to one of three conditions: theorization, simulation, or “free-choice”—which decided on each trial whether to view the emotional picture or a video of the experiencer. Those in the simulation condition guessed the most accurate emotional response (t(177) = 13.52, p < .001, CLES = 97.30%).
The fourth experiment was based on the first and third experiments, but fifty-six participants were asked to suppress facial expression, express clearly, or behave normally. 422 participants were predictors randomly assigned to the same conditions in the first experiment. Theorization predictions were most accurate in the expressive condition (t(413) = 8.66, p < .001, CLES = 83.61%).
These studies suggest that people underestimate insight gained by considering the situation from another person’s point of view. Future researchers should look at verbal and nonverbal cues in emotion prediction.
- H. Zhou, E. Majka, N. Epley. Inferring perspective versus getting perspective. Psychological Science 28 (2017). doi: 10.1177/0956797616687124
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