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  • Writer's pictureEliane Deschrijver

Relational mentalising talk now online

On July 3th 2020, I was invited to present our work on relational mentalising at the Friday colloquium of the School of Psychology at University of New South Wales (UNSW). A recording thereof is now available here.

Abstract: The most dominant theory of human social cognition, the Theory of Mind hypothesis, emphasises our ability to infer the mental states of others. After having represented those mental states however, we can have an idea of how well our thinking aligns with theirs, and our sensitivity to this alignment may guide the flow of our social interactions. Here, we focus on the distinction between inferring another’s mental state (inferring a mental representation) and detecting the extent to which an already represented other-related mental state is matching or mismatching with our own (mental conflict monitoring). We show how a seminal argument has resulted in an axiom in the Theory of Mind domain that may need revision given more recent scientific developments. On the basis of this, we propose a reframing of mentalising data of over a period of 40 years in terms of mental conflict monitoring rather than mental representation. We argue that key brain regions implicated in false belief designs (namely, temporoparietal junction areas) may methodologically be tied to mental conflict processing. Data patterns directly suggest that autism is not tied to lacking mental representation or ‘mindblindness’, but rather to a lesser active mental conflict monitoring mechanism. The consequences of our view for the larger social-cognitive domain are explored, including for perspective taking, moral judgements, and understanding irony and humour. This provides a potential shift in perspective for psychological science, its neuroscientific bases, and related disciplines: Throughout life, an adequate sensitivity to how others think differently (relational mentalising) may be more fundamental to navigating the social world than inferring which thoughts others have (representational mentalising).

Bio: Dr. Eliane Deschrijver is a postdoctoral scholar at Ghent University (Prof. Brass lab), who is based at UNSW for the coming year (Prof. Clifford lab). She is specialised in social neuroscience (mirror neurons of actions and touch, mentalising, agency, body representation, ...)  in neurotypical and clinical populations (autism, schizophrenia). Breaking with the singular focus of social neuroscientists on the human brain, she believes that the most thorny social-cognitive scientific issues deserve an exceedingly inter- and intradisciplinary approach in the future, in particular by enticing philosophers of mind and social psychologists into the debate.

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