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Theory of Mind - how to explain it

Discussion in 'Autism Science Discussions' started by Alexej, Jul 19, 2020.

  1. Alexej

    Alexej Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Yesterday I was talking to my daughter about my ASD and I used the phrase "theory of mind".

    I am struggling to understand this one for myself, but I am getting the understanding that it has to do with my ability to understand a priori how I will come across, what effect my actions will have on another. This knowledge enables me to avoid doing certain things or doing them in a different way since I thereby avoid certain consequences.

    I know this is not a full explanation of Theory of mind (ToM)
    How have others been able to explain it simply and clearly? My daughter used the word insight as her summary of what I said, but insight does not quite capture what ToM is.
     
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  2. Karamazov

    Karamazov Well-Known Member

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    I think what’s meant by it is the capacity to intuitively cross reference facial expressions, body language, words used and socio-cultural context to arrive at a broadly accurate model of another person/other people’s thoughts, emotions and the linkage between them... operating at a subconscious level and almost instantaneously.

    From how much people I know talk of “energy”, “vibes” and “atmosphere” (metaphorical usages I assume) when relaying social/interpersonal exchanges I think the process is experienced as a singular whole, with no formal analysis or theoretical modelling being involved.
     
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  3. Ylva

    Ylva Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    NTs don't have great theory of mind. They need you to think like them to even try to predict your feelings about something, otherwise they just project their own feelings onto you.

    A year or so ago I came across an essay on game theory that didn't deal with autism, but with neurotypical theory of mind nevertheless. It described how NTs think when there's more than two of them: Say A and B know each other, and both know C separately. Since they don't have a relationship with each other's relationships with the other, if B makes an off-color joke that would usually be considered funny by both others, they won't be able to laugh at it because of how it would make them look to each other.

    That's not word-by-word, and it's possible that an NT would summarize it a little differently. All this to say, I agree with you, it's more of an image thing than a mind-reading thing. One of the things that make social interaction so ridiculously boring is that it seems to be all about impressing each other.
     
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  4. Karamazov

    Karamazov Well-Known Member

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    ^ yeah, in practice it is founded on the assumption that the other mind(s) work pretty much as the mind doing it does: which is limiting in both neurological and cultural dimensions.

    The further from the utilisers “comfort zone” the social situation is, the less useful it will be to them as a guide to what’s going on.
     
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  5. Magna

    Magna Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    One way I'd describe people who struggle with ToM (I do): It's assuming that everyone has logical thought processes and assuming that what is obvious to you is also obvious to others. It's believing that you see the world with certain things objectively and therefore you assume that others are seeing those same certain things the same way (objectively).

    This is an oversimplification but the concept applies to how I feel when I get frustrated when I think people should deduce the "obvious" and don't:

    Imagine being in the kitchen baking some cookies. Another person is in the kitchen and knows that you're baking cookies. You ask that person to hand you some pot holders. They ask, "Why?" You get frustrated with them because they know you're baking cookies and it should be obvious to everyone that you can't handle a hot cookie sheet directly from the oven without some sort of protection or you'll get burned.

    ^Again, an oversimplification, but it illustrates that from your perspective the situation is obvious and you think everyone is aware of the variables of the situation and no further explanation should be necessary. The reality is that things are not necessarily obvious to others as they are to you and people may not be aware of all the variables in a situation like you think they are.
     
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  6. Spiritfilled

    Spiritfilled New Member

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    Oh this is a great explanation. In that case, I think I do this a lot. Especially to my poor husband I guess that also translates like....I’m having a bad day or struggling in some way, and I expect people to automatically know this? yup, guilty of that too!
     
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  7. Kalinychta

    Kalinychta Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I don’t think logic has much to do with it, though. In fact I’d say that people who struggle with theory of mind are actually the illogical ones. Like re: your cookie analogy, I would change it to: you ask the other person in the kitchen to hand you potholders. Neither the oven nor the stove is on, and they don’t know that you plan to make cookies. So they ask you why you want potholders. You can’t understand that from the other person‘s perspective, it’s strange to ask for potholders when the stove and oven aren’t on. You know why you want them, so how could other people not? It’s related to cognitive empathy.

    Another example I read online is: a little girl puts a ball into a box and leaves the room. Another little girl takes the ball out of the box and puts it in a basket. The first little girl comes back. Where will she look for the ball? Autistic kids point to the basket. They know that the ball is in the basket, so they assume that the girl knows, too, even though she had left the room and didn’t see that it had been removed from the box and put into the basket.
     
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  8. Pieplup

    Pieplup The Penguin

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    Theory of mind is understanding that everyone else might not think the same way as you
     
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  9. Crossbreed

    Crossbreed Neur-D Missionary ☝️ V.I.P Member

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    Basically, it is being able to put yourself in the other person's shoes; to see things from another person's perspective.
    • When it comes to knowing what others are likely to know, I am usually good at it.
    • When it comes to knowing what NTs are likely to feel, I am not so good at it.
    • When it comes to knowing what fellow neurds are likely to feel, I am somewhat good at it.
     
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  10. Spiritfilled

    Spiritfilled New Member

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    Ahhh, the sally anne test! actually my ASD daughter passed that like a NT, so it’s not that reliable haha
     
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  11. Kalinychta

    Kalinychta Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I would pass it, too. I have trouble with theory of mind but not as much as the little girl in the test!
     
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  12. Ylva

    Ylva Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    The Sally/Anne test doesn't require much depth of thinking. It's weird if people think passing it proves you're NT.
     
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  13. Ylva

    Ylva Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I can't even visualize this without seeing the second girl watching the first girl look for her ball to see if her trolling worked. Then the question becomes: does the girl looking for the ball know how to recognize the troll look?
     
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  14. Magna

    Magna Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I think your modified example illustrates that there are certainly degrees of ToM issues. I agree that your example illustrates something illogical and I believe that there are people who have ToM issues to the degree that they assume others can read their mind; which is what your example illustrates: someone in effect believing others can actually read their mind since there would literally be no way of knowing why the potholders were requested.

    In my example, the person is aware that cookies are being baked, they must come out of the oven, ovens are hot and cookie sheets out of the oven require mitts. In my example the person with a ToM issue assumes the other person is in the same place (ie the same level of awareness) about what is going on as they are. The frustration comes when the other person if not in the "same place" can't quickly put A (cookies), B (hot oven) and C (oven mitts prevent burns) together because maybe they're not thinking about the cookies at all. Perhaps they're engrossed in entirely different thoughts.
     
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  15. Progster

    Progster Gone sideways to the sun V.I.P Member

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    It's an ability to see things from another person's perpective, which may be different to your own.

    As @Crossbreed says, autistic people usually can predict what other people are likely to know, but not what they are likely to feel.

    Social communication involves not only the exchange of words, but also social cues in the form of emotional messages, or 'ememes.' When people talk, there is a flow or emotional information back and forth, and they are continually monitoring and checking the other person for their emotional feedback. We are not so good at picking up on these cues or knowing how to respond to them, and so often fail to respond appropiately. So, we are misunderstood: we are considered rude, or abrupt, inappropiate or a bit odd.

    If someone says to me, "I don't feel too good today," this is a social cue, and I'm supposed to respond by asking why and trying to comfort them. But in my mind, this is just information. I think, "Oh, ok" or "What do you want me to do about that?" not because I don't care, but because I don't know what to do with the information. I have learned to ask the person why and try to help, and this is a good example of masking, but even so, people often what more than I can give. I can help them on a practical, not an emotional level. So I might give advice or offer solutions to whatever problem the person has, but what they really want is emotional comfort or validation. This comes natually to most NTs - they have an instinctive understanding of what the person is feeling, what they need and how to give them that. When we fail to give, we are accused of being insensitive, or cold and distant, and the experts will tell us that we have no theory of mind, because we have apparently failed to see the other person's emotional perspective and respond to it.

    Also, we are often accused of not having a theory of mind simply because we have a different opinion and we stick to that opinion. Example: I can't stand people smoking in public places and believe this should be strictly banned, and I often tell people this, including people who smoke. They may come up with counterarguments, but I believe that I'm right and will insist on my opinion. I then get told: I'm rigid, stubborn, self-centered, and lack theory of mind because, again, I apparently fail to see things from another person's perspective and therefore lack theory of mind. It's not true that I'm not aware of a different perspective, it's simply because I have an opinion that happens to be different to theirs and I stick to it. Ironic really, because in this case, if anything, they are the ones who lack theory of mind, not me!
     
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  16. Alexej

    Alexej Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Thank you all for the responses.
    I am amazed at the range of answers to the questions which is much wider than I was expecting.

    It confirms to me that this idea is much harder to explain than I thought it would be.
     
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  17. Jonn

    Jonn Well-Known Member

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    I can't anticipate how someone is going to react to something I say, to save my life.
    After their reaction, I can logically "Connect The Dots".
     
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  18. Crossbreed

    Crossbreed Neur-D Missionary ☝️ V.I.P Member

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    That is probably more based on their feelings (and those a priori).

    "After their reaction,..." is a posteriori.
     
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  19. Els

    Els Well-Known Member

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    I assume a lot of times that people can read my mind or see things as I see them because they're just logical to me. I don't realize someone can miss it. For the basket example mentionned in the other posts, I would also tell the person would look inside the basket because I know she will end up looking there anyway because that's where the ball is. The fact that she looks where it was or needs to look for it is irrelevant to me, I jump towards the solution and often miss to explain the steps.
    I don't realize people wouldn't understand why I'd point the basket. Both answers are correct, the question is just not precise enough.So you might give an expected answer or an unexpected answer.
    A lot of NT people expect others to read their minds. For example, I went at the dentist once, and he asked me "what are you coming for?". I answered "because I have a problem". I asked a friend later what I was supposed to answer to that, because the question was confusing. He told me I was supposed to understand that the person was asking me to tell him about the problem. I didn't understand that because that's not what the person said. Same with the last time I went to a psychiatrist : "was THERE any anxiety about covid19?". My spontaneous answer : "where?". I just couldn't understand what he meant. So a lot of NT people also assume that you should be able to read their minds when they don't express themselves clearly. I do that as well, I don't realize they miss parts to understand nor what parts they're missing. Thing is, most NT people never ask precisions. I ask them to explain to me a lot, but a lot of people don't reciprocate.
    I'm positive about the fact that I can't read other people's minds and they can't read mine, but I struggle to know the cues that I miss to understand them (I simply don't know and have no idea) and the cues I'm not sending that makes them miss it for me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2020
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  20. Ylva

    Ylva Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    See, this is the kind of thing that would never occur to an allistic psychologist. They would just assume you think Sally knows what Anne knows.
     
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