Know yourself and you shall know the other… to a certain extent: Multiple paths of influence of self-reflection on mindreading☆

Consciousness and Cognition 17 (3):778-789 (2008)

Abstract

Social and neurocognitive research suggests that thinking about one’s own thinking and thinking about the thinking of others—termed ‘mindreading’, ‘metacognition’, ‘social cognition’ or ‘mentalizing’ are not identical activities. The ability though to think about thinking in the first person is nevertheless related to the ability to think about other’s thoughts in the third person. Unclear is how these phenomena influence one another. In this review, we explore how self-reflection and autobiographical memory influence the capacity to think about the thoughts and emotions of others. We review studies suggesting that the more individuals are able to reflect on and retrieve episodes from their life narratives, the more they are likely to grasp others’ thoughts and emotions. We discuss evidence supporting this possibility including studies of the neurocognitive bases of empathy and self-awareness and how different aspects of self-reflection may impact on mindreading. We also draw from clinical reports how improved self-reflection may result in a more nuanced mindreading, namely persons suffering from schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder. We finally discuss the implications for research and practice and consider whether there are conditions in which the reverse is true, where self-reflection might impair mindreading or in which mindreading may facilitate self-reflection

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