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Mind-Reading in Altruists and Psychopaths

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Neuroscience and Social Science

Abstract

Due to its importance in political, cultural, and clinical spheres, adult mind-reading needs to be investigated (and understood) in depth. This chapter introduces the various meanings of “mind-reading” in neurotypical adults. We highlight philosophical and psychological implications of this construct for a wide variety of specifically human social interactions, such as play, acting, and manipulation. As a general rule, humans see one another as centres of intentional gravity and are very good folk psychologists (i.e. predictors of others’ behaviours). These predictive powers rest in no small part on our various abilities to mind-read. A centre of intentional gravity can be decomposed into concepts such as beliefs, desires, and motives and can have multiple orders of understanding (e.g. “he believes that she desires him to wish for…”). Such multilayered abilities underwrite a vast range of human cognitive and affective domains such as mimicry, altruism, empathy, psychopathy, and learning. Our ability to attribute independent mental states and processes to others, as well as to animals and inanimate objects, is an integral part of human social behaviour, but mind-reading alone has no necessary internal moral compass, as seen in the behaviour of altruists and psychopaths. Rather, mind-reading is presented here as an all-encompassing toolkit that enables us to navigate our Umwelt as effectively as possible.

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Felisberti, F.M., King, R. (2017). Mind-Reading in Altruists and Psychopaths. In: Ibáñez, A., Sedeño, L., García, A. (eds) Neuroscience and Social Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68421-5_6

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