Cusimano, C., & Goodwin, G.
In press, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Prominent accounts of folk theory of mind posit that people judge others’ mental states to be uncontrollable, unintentional, or otherwise involuntary. Yet, this claim has little empirical support: few studies have investigated lay judgments about mental state control, and those that have done so yield conflicting conclusions. We address this shortcoming across six studies, which show that, in fact, lay people attribute to others a high degree of intentional control over their mental states, including their emotions, desires, beliefs, and evaluative attitudes. For prototypical mental states, people’s judgments of control systematically varied by mental state category (e.g., emotions were seen as less controllable than desires, which in turn were seen as less controllable than beliefs and evaluative attitudes). However, these differences were attenuated, sometimes completely, when the content of and context for each mental state were tightly controlled. Finally, judgments of control over mental states correlated positively with judgments of responsibility and blame for them, and to a lesser extent, with judgments that the mental state reveals the agent’s character. These findings replicated across multiple populations and methods, and generalized to people’s real-world experiences. The present results challenge the view that people judge others’ mental states as passive, involuntary, or unintentional, and suggest that mental state control judgments play a key role in other important areas of social judgment and decision making.
The research is here.
Important research for those practicing psychotherapy.