The 3d Mind Model Characterizes How People Understand Mental States Across Modern and Historical Cultures

Mark A. Thornton, Sarah Wolf, Brian J. Reilly, Edward G. Slingerland, Diana I. Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Humans rely on social interaction to achieve many important goals. These interactions rely in turn on people’s capacity to understand others’ mental states: their thoughts and feelings. Do different cultures understand minds in different ways, or do widely shared principles describe how different cultures understand mental states? Extensive data suggest that the mind organizes mental state concepts using the 3d Mind Model, composed of the following psychological dimensions: rationality (vs. emotionality), social impact (states which affect others more vs. less), and valence (positive vs. negative states). However, this evidence comes primarily from English-speaking individuals in the USA. Here, we investigated mental state representation in 57 contemporary countries, using 163 million English-language tweets; in 17 languages, using billions of words of text from internet webpages; and across more than 2,000 years of history, using curated texts from four historical societies. We quantified mental state meaning by analyzing the text produced by each culture using word embeddings. We then tested whether the 3d Mind Model could explain which mental states were similar in meaning within each culture. We found that the 3d Mind Model significantly explained mental state meaning in every country, language, and historical society that we examined. These results suggest that rationality, social impact, and valence form a generalizable conceptual backbone for mental state representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-104
Number of pages12
JournalAffective Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Cross-cultural
  • Emotion
  • Social cognition
  • Text analysis


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