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Research Examines Social Benefits of Getting Into Someone Else’s Head

Desire to understand other people’s perspectives has implications for teamwork, relationships

June 1, 2016   Source: University at Buffalo

Do you often wonder what the person next to you is thinking? You might be high in mind-reading motivation (MRM), a newly coined term for the practice of observing and interpreting bits of social information, like whether the person next to you is rhythmically drumming his fingers because he’s anxious or if someone is preoccupied because she’s gazing off into the distance.

Do you often wonder what the person next to you is thinking?

You might be high in mind-reading motivation (MRM), a newly coined term for the practice of observing and interpreting bits of social information, like whether the person next to you is rhythmically drumming his fingers because he’s anxious or if someone is preoccupied because she’s gazing off into the distance.

MRM is the tendency to engage with the mental states and perspectives of others. But it’s much more than just a means of passing idle time. Being high in MRM leads to many social benefits, including better teamwork, according to Melanie Green, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication and corresponding author of the groundbreaking new study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

“We’re not talking about the psychic phenomenon or anything like that, but simply using cues from other people’s behavior, their non-verbal signals, to try to figure out what they’re thinking,” says Green.

MRM is an entirely new construct – developed by Green and her coauthors Jordan M. Carpenter at the University of Pennsylvania and Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley – which also has implications for advertising and relationships.

Individuals high in MRM enjoy speculating on others’ thoughts based on the potentially hundreds of social cues they might receive. Those low in MRM dislike or have no interest in doing so. MRM is about the motivation to engage with other minds, and is distinct from the ability to accurately interpret others’ cues.

“We didn’t measure ability directly in our study of teamwork, but the research suggests that just the motivation to understand others, and presumably the behaviors that go along with that motivation, appear to lead to benefits,” says Green.


In addition to facilitating cooperation and better teamwork, people high in MRM also consider people in great detail and have a nuanced understanding of those around them.

“Those high in MRM seem to develop richer psychological portraits of those around them,” says Green. “It’s the difference between saying ‘this person strives for success, but is afraid of achieving it’ as opposed to ‘this person is a great cook.'”

The relevance of those portraits also appears to have implications for advertising and the salience of certain messages.

“High MRM people are more drawn to and pay more attention to messages with an identifiable source – a spokesperson or an ad focusing on company values – that is, someone whose perspective they can try to understand.” says Green. “On the other hand, low MRM people seem to pay more attention to ads that are more impersonal, like those that just discuss the product – a message that does not appear to come from a particular person or group.”

Although there is no previous research in MRM, there is a long history of studies on perspective taking. But much of that research has focused on situations where perspective taking, in a sense, is required.

“Think about seeing some kind of trouble and trying to figure out what’s wrong,” she says. “Or noticing your partner is upset and you try to figure out what they’re thinking.”

Green and her colleagues thought there might be a difference in how much people enjoy or were motivated to speculate on people’s thoughts in situations where there was no situational need or institutional pressure. It could be as simple as a bus passenger considering the thoughts of those across the aisle.

“This hadn’t been previously considered from the standpoint of individual differences,” says Green.
“That’s where this research is something new.”

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University at Buffalo. The original item was written by Bert Gambini. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Journal Reference:
Jordan M. Carpenter, Melanie C. Green, Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk. Beyond perspective-taking: Mind-reading motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 2016; 40 (3): 358 DOI: 10.1007/s11031-016-9544-z

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6 Things An Empath Does Differently

By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, and it seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. From business leaders to front-line salespeople, from medical doctors to school officials, everyone is trying to become more empathetic to better serve their community.

Highly empathetic people know they are different from the people around them. They are highly sensitive and overly emotional beings that feel what other people feel. While they thrive on the loving and positive feelings, they are unable to escape feeling negative emotions that can be somewhat daunting. Feeling so deeply makes it difficult to adjust to new situations and forces the empathetic person to proceed slowly when meeting new people or taking on new projects.

Empaths can sometimes feel as if they are cursed, but being in tune with the energy of the world is a blessing. Sure it’s difficult to live in the world where the majority of people are less sensitive, but there are many good things to being an empath.

Dr. Judith Orloff, the best-selling author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, says, “Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.”



Empathetic people are learners by nature. They maintain their sense of wonder and curiosity from childhood that most of us grow out of when we become adults. They are naturally inquisitive and ask questions without judgment purely to learn and feel the experiences of others.


While most of us may pay attention to our feelings of intuition, we often require more information before we know what to do with them. That’s not the case for an empathetic person. They not only pay attention to their intuition, but will take action solely based on it. They know their intuition is their inner guide and will not lead them astray.




It is easy for an empathetic person to put themselves in other people’s shoes because they can feel what they feel. This connection to feelings makes an empathetic person someone who makes decisions carefully and thoughtfully, knowing the impact it will have on the people around them.


Being highly intuitive and sensitive to the world around them, an empathetic person creates their environment to support this heightened awareness. They are selective in the work they do, the commitments they agree to take on and the people they allow into their inner circle.


Empathetic people can see and understand things beyond what is on the surface. This ability paired with their natural curiosity keeps them in the present moment. They feel it’s their obligation to learn, and share what they learn from their observations with the people that will benefit. This sense of duty keeps them tuned into what is happening around them at any given time.


Empathetic people are inspiring. They commit to the things they believe in, and that belief becomes contagious to the people around them. They feel the need to take up the causes that address human inequalities because they feel their pain. In doing so, they are fully capable of leading a movement.

Here is an amazing quote by Anthon St. Maarten:

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken; it is a society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”

Empathy is an important skill today and plays a role in all aspects of life, including business. Many people believe feelings and emotions don’t belong in the workplace, but the contrary seems to be true. The Center for Creatively Leadership conducted a study that revealed that empathy can contribute to positive job performance. So it seems any business would benefit from inviting empathic people into their offices.

Everyone is born with natural empathy, but somehow loses it as they grow. That doesn’t mean we have to live the rest of our lives without it. Empathy is something we can develop and foster within ourselves. One of the best ways to do that is to become curious about the world. Ask questions, be interested, commit to learning and start to form new connections that will develop the empathetic person within.


Art Elevates the Mind by Increasing Empathy, Critical Thinking and Tolerance

A new large-scale experiment on over 10,000 students finds that a one-hour tour of an art museum can increase empathy, tolerance and critical thinking skills.

The study took advantage of a new museum opening in the US state of Arkansas, which many schools applied to visit (Greene et al., 2014).

By carefully timetabling when they visited, the researchers were able to create an experiment on the effects of art on the students’ mind.

Each school was randomly assigned to visit the museum earlier, or delayed until later. Each school that visited earlier was demographically matched with a similar school that had to wait–this provided the control group.

The museum tour itself was pretty simple. It was one hour long and they viewed and talked about five paintings. The entire trip was around half a day.

After the early museum visits, all the students, including those that hadn’t been, were asked to write about a painting they hadn’t seen before to assess how they thought about art. They were also tested for historical empathy and tolerance.

The results showed that, compared with those who had not been to the museum, students who had visited:

  • Thought about art more critically.
  • Displayed greater empathy about how people lived in the past.
  • Expressed greater levels of tolerance towards people with different views.

The museum had clearly been a mind-expanding experience for the young people.


Interestingly, the improvements were larger when the students were from more deprived backgrounds.

Visiting the museum also made students more likely to want to visit art museums again in the future. This could create a cascading effect over their lifetime, continuing to boost critical thought, empathy and tolerance.

What is art for?

Field trips are often seen by teachers and students as purely for pleasure, rather than for educational purposes.

But the authors point out that museums are about more than that:

“We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education; we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.” (Greene et al., 2014)


 source: PsyBlog

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Why Does Bad News Stress Women Out More than Men?

Feeling stressed, ladies? It could be due to your mass-media diet

By ALEXANDRA SIFFERLIN      October 11, 2012

It’s hard to avoid the news, thanks to Twitter feeds, Facebook updates and the ubiquity of newsfeeds eager to flood your screen with both calamity and celebration. But how are all these current events affecting our psyche?

To figure out whether our increasing exposure to 24-hour news coverage — especially negative news — has an impact on our stress levels, researchers from University of Montreal recruited 60 men and women to read news stories and submit to certain stressful situations. Turns out, women are more sensitive to negative news stories than men are, and they remember the details of such events better.

For the study, the researchers divided the participants, aged 18 to 35, into four groups to read news stories. One group of men and one group of women read “neutral” news stories, about park openings or movie premieres, for example, while the other groups read negative news stories — about murders and accidents. To determine the participants’ stress levels after reading these stories, the research team took saliva samples and analyzed each for the stress hormone cortisol. The higher the level of hormone, the more stressed the participants likely were.

The study participants then completed stress-inducing tasks involving memory and intellect, and then provided a second round of saliva samples. The following day, the participants discussed the news stories they read the day before with researchers over the phone. The scientists found that although women’s stress levels didn’t rise after reading the negative news stories, the stories did make them more reactive to the stressful situations they endured afterward: women’s cortisol levels were higher after the memory and intellect tasks if they had first read negative news stories than if they read the neutral ones. Researchers didn’t see the same effect in men. What’s more, women who read stories about accidents and murders remembered more about them than did women who read “neutral” news. Again, the same phenomenon wasn’t seen among the male participants.

“When our brain perceives a threatening situation, our bodies begin to produce stress hormones that enter the brain and may modulate memories of stressful or negative events,” Sonia Lupien, director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, explained in a statement. “This led us to believe that reading a negative news story should provoke the reader’s stress reaction.”

What might explain the gender difference? The researchers speculate that evolutionary factors could play a role. Women’s invested interest in the survival of their offspring may make them more sensitive to potentially threatening situations or events. “Women tend to be more empathic than men,” says lead author Marie-France Marin. “It could be that they carry the [emotional] load longer than men, which could also influence their memory.”

The authors argue that understanding and appreciating individual reactions to bad news is increasingly important in our plugged-in society. “We are consuming news more and more. With smartphones, you can always see what’s going on. Our brain is constantly detecting stressors, and more and more stress hormones get back to the brain, which can affect attention, mood and cognition,” says Marin.

For women, perhaps recognizing that they may be particularly vulnerable to news-related stress could help them lessen the burden by simply being mindful of the potential effect of mass media, or by engaging in coping mechanisms like meditation and exercise.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

source: Time.com