Solving the (Real) Other Minds Problem



People care about others’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions but can have considerable difficulty reading others’ minds accurately. Recent advances in understanding how people make such inferences provide significant insight into when people are likely to be reasonably accurate mind readers and when they are not. People tend to reason about others’ mental states by starting with their own and only subsequently adjusting that egocentric default to accommodate differences between themselves and others. Such adjustments tend to be insufficient, rendering final estimates egocentrically biased. When more information about others is available, people tend to rely on existing stereotypes or other expectations to intuit others’ mental states. Systematic errors resulting either from excessive egocentrism or inaccurate expectations can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and social conflict, but these biases also suggest useful strategies for improving mind reading in everyday life.