Behavioural Manifestations and Relational Correlates of Individual Differences in Theory of Mind
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Although it is impossible to know the contents of others’ minds with absolute certainty, we can (and do) make probabilistic guesses about what others are thinking or feeling. When these judgments are made based on observable information, we refer to this skill as “theory of mind decoding.” There are individual differences in how accurately adults make theory of mind decoding judgments, and how motivated they are to use this skill in daily life. However, surprisingly little is known social correlates of these individual differences. The current dissertation examined whether theory-of-mind decoding skill, motivation to use this skill, and their interaction predicted three categories of social behaviours: conversational skills, cognitive sensitivity, and mental state language. Further, I explored whether these social behaviours predicted relational success, strangers’ ratings of participant likeability after an initial encounter. Participants were 334 undergraduate students who participated in a cooperative building task with a same-gender stranger. Social behaviours were coded based on video recordings of the building task. Theory-of-mind skill was assessed using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task, and motivation to use theory of mind was assessed using the self-reported Mind-Reading Motivation scale. Results suggested that theory-of-mind skill, motivation to use this skill, and their interaction did not directly predict partner ratings of participant likeability. However, individual differences in theory of mind did predict partner ratings of participant likeability indirectly through cognitive sensitivity. Further, theory-of-mind skill and motivation to use this skill manifested in different aspects of conversational skills and mental state language, although these behaviours were not significant predictors of partner ratings of participant likeability. Taken together, the results of this study support the general assertion that individual differences in theory of mind are important for social interactions, even among healthy adults, and highlights the basic social cognitive processes that facilitate successful interpersonal interactions.