People represent their own mental states more distinctly than those of others

Mark A. Thornton, Miriam E. Weaverdyck, Judith N. Mildner, Diana I. Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


One can never know the internal workings of another person—one can only infer others' mental states based on external cues. In contrast, each person has direct access to the contents of their own mind. Here, we test the hypothesis that this privileged access shapes the way people represent internal mental experiences, such that they represent their own mental states more distinctly than the states of others. Across four studies, participants considered their own and others' mental states; analyses measured the distinctiveness of mental state representations. Two fMRI studies used representational similarity analyses to demonstrate that the social brain manifests more distinct activity patterns when thinking about one's own states vs. others'. Two behavioral studies complement these findings, and demonstrate that people differentiate between states less as social distance increases. Together, these results suggest that we represent our own mind with greater granularity than the minds of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2117
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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