By Francesca Ionescu | Contributor
Cardiff University and the Universities of Bath and London have conducted a study to find a new approach to ‘mind-reading’ called the FIMI (Four-Item Mentalising Index). The study has found that women are better at reading minds than men, it also confirmed that autistic people lack mind reading skills which adds to their social challenges.
The new test consisted of a four-item questionnaire, scored between four and sixteen; four indicated low mind reading skills and sixteen indicated excellent skills. The average score was between twelve and thirteen. The study used a new and easy test, used on more than 4,000 people in the UK and US, both autistic and non-autistic. The test statistically measured the same thing in men and women and reported that women are better at ‘mentalising,’ also known as the ‘Theory of the Mind,’ or more commonly ‘reading someone’s mind’.
Dr Punit Shah, co-senior author from the University of Bath, said: “We needed to separate mind-reading from empathy. Mind-reading refers to understanding what other people are thinking, whereas empathy is all about understanding what others are feeling.
“By focusing carefully on measuring mind-reading, without confusing it with empathy, we are confident that we have just measured mind-reading. And, when doing this, we consistently find that females reported greater mind-reading abilities than their male counterparts.”
Senior author Dr Lucy Livingston, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology said that the test could potentially be used to identify people who have trouble reading social cues, as previous tests have relied on complex tasks to measure reading minds in autistic people. Dr Livingston also said that “the ability to understand other people’s minds is really important for successful social interaction among humans” while also admitting that there is still no scientific explanation as to why some people are excellent at reading minds and some the opposite. The test however could be used in large-scale research to find the reasoning behind the difference in mind-reading skills.
Dr Livingston said the freely available tool had potential clinical utility to identify people who have difficulties understanding other’s minds and provide them with appropriate extra support.
She stated that the results do not mean “that autistic people are not motivated to understand and interact with other people.”
“Typically, researchers have relied on complex experimental tasks to measure this ability in autistic people. However, our new test takes into account the lived experiences of autistic people, as it relies on them self-reporting their social abilities and difficulties,” she said.
In essence, the tool could be instrumental in providing autistic people with better and more personal help when interacting with the world around them. Evidently being able to read minds is an important part of socialising and it differs from person to person. The tri-university effort has made an influential discovery which will impact the lives of many.