Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mental as Anything

aka "the intentional stance" (Dennett's 1987 book of the same name)

"Mentalizing" is big in Neuron this week:
Chris D. Frith and Uta Frith
The Neural Basis of Mentalizing.
Neuron 50: 531–534; May 18, 2006

Mentalizing refers to our ability to read the mental states of other agents and engages many neural processes. The brain’s mirror system allows us to share the emotions of others. Through perspective taking, we can infer what a person currently believes about the world given their point of view. Finally, the human brain has the unique ability to represent the mental states of the self and the other and the relationship between these mental states, making possible the communication of ideas.
All the new-fangled buzzwords are there:
Theory of Mind
The Brain’s Mirror System
The Neural Correlates of Mentalizing
Perspective Taking
and
Understanding People Like Us
Apropos of the latter (and most disturbing) subheading is an article in the same issue by Mitchell et al.:
Mitchell, J.P., Macrae, C.N., and Banaji, M.R. (2006).
Dissociable Medial Prefrontal Contributions to Judgments of Similar and Dissimilar Others.
Neuron 50: 655–663.

Human social interaction requires the recognition that other people are governed by the same types of mental states -- beliefs, desires, intentions -- that guide one’s own behavior. We used functional neuroimaging to examine how perceivers make mental state inferences when such self-other overlap can be assumed (when the other is similar to oneself) and when it cannot (when the other is dissimilar from oneself). We observed a double dissociation such that mentalizing about a similar other engaged a region of ventral mPFC linked to self-referential thought, whereas mentalizing about a dissimilar other engaged a more dorsal subregion of mPFC. The overlap between judgments of self and similar others suggests the plausibility of "simulation" accounts of social cognition, which posit that perceivers can use knowledge about themselves to infer the mental states of others.
As described by Frith and Frith (2006), this study
"report[ed] an elegant experiment that directly investigates the effect of similarity. Participants were told about two target individuals who were described as having liberal or conservative views. They were then asked to predict the feelings and attitudes of these two targets in various situations (e.g., "would he enjoy having a roommate from a different country"). Subsequently the political attitudes of the participants were also assessed. The results show a different pattern when thinking about a similar or a dissimilar other. Thinking about similar others was associated with activity in ventral mPFC (18, 57, 9 -- in the region labeled anterior rostral MFC in Amodio and Frith 2006), while thinking about a dissimilar other was associated with activity in a more dorsal region of mPFC (29, 45, 42 -- posterior rostral MFC).










This is strong evidence for segregation of function within the area of medial prefrontal cortex associated with mentalizing."
[my emphasis]

It couldn't have anything to do with merely agreeing or disagreeing with "the other" now, could it? It really has to do with extracting the putative mental contents from the brain of a hypothetical individual, now does it? Not different affective states engendered by the agreement or disagreement? Not semantic knowledge about how certain "types" of people may act in certain situations? Hmmmm?

Does the first bar graph (below left) mean that liberals are a little less hostile to conservatives than vice versa? Does the other bar graph (below right) mean that the “Not Like Me” area in liberals is equally activated by “self” and “conservative other”?? What DOES it all mean?

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5 Comments:

At May 22, 2006 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Does the other bar graph (below right) mean that the “Not Like Me” area in liberals is equally activated by “self” and “conservative other”?? What DOES it all mean?


It means that Neuron has really jumped the shark. Seriously, I cannot mentalize what either the authors were thinking of when they designed their experiment or what the editors were thinking of when they decided to green light this. But I guess my "not like me" area was awash in blood while I was thinking about this.

So here's an idea. Suppose we took this very study and described it as a strictly behavioral one with data that are actually much nicer than this data, but again suggesting that there is a double dissociation between mentalizing others who are like or unlike the self. Would any self-respecting cogntive or social psychologist NOT have seen the major problems with the design? Or with the inference that the meaningful distinction is between like/unlike self? Or that you might want converging evidence of another kind before making this claim? In other words, without the distracting (f)MRI images, would this have been a publishable study?

 
At May 22, 2006 11:26 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

You're exactly right. And it gets worse: the authors used the IAT to retroactively assign subjects to "like liberal" and "not like liberal" groups. Only 3 subjects (out of 15 total) actually had RT effects indicating they might have a closer affinity to the conservative "other" (if you believe the IAT).

In explicit ratings, all participants ranked themselves as fairly liberal, being typical university students in Boston. So the researchers didn't bother to recruit actual conservative Christians from Campus Crusade for Christ (let's say)... there's a chapter at Harvard, even.

 
At May 22, 2006 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


And it gets worse: the authors used the IAT to retroactively assign subjects to "like liberal" and "not like liberal" groups.


No; they couldn't have done that. That would be just too wrong.


Only 3 subjects (out of 15 total) actually had RT effects indicating they might have a closer affinity to the conservative "other"


No! No, no, no, no, no! Please, make it stop! So at the end of the day, we're talking about analyzing functional imaging data using what is essentially RT noise. I guess I should read this, but I'd have to wash my hands every 2 minutes!

That said, my idea about designing a relevant behavioral study go right out the window since if the study involved a nice, objective measure like the IAT, it would have flown into print anyway.

 
At May 22, 2006 12:51 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...

 
At July 11, 2014 9:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

what words mean..whatever you imagine they do. the problem with postmodernism is that people take it setioudly. until they get past "did that door really hit my nose?" and return to opersnt definitions sny data persuant to "liberal"/"conservstive" means about as.much as "like me". (could i have a 1 to 10 scale of that so.it looks more numerically rigorous please?)...garbage in. (in)digested garbage out. its called caca in dutch

 

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