Theory of mind, or mentalizing, defined as the ability to reason about another's mental states, is a crucial psychological function that is disrupted in some forms of psychopathology, but little is known about how individual differences in this ability relate to personality or brain function. One previous study linked mentalizing ability to individual differences in the personality trait Agreeableness. Agreeableness encompasses two major subdimensions: Compassion reflects tendencies toward empathy, prosocial behaviour, and interpersonal concern, whereas Politeness captures tendencies to suppress aggressive and exploitative impulses. We hypothesized that Compassion but not Politeness would be associated with better mentalizing ability. This hypothesis was confirmed in Study 1 (N = 329) using a theory of mind task that required reasoning about the beliefs of fictional characters. Post hoc analyses indicated that the honesty facet of Agreeableness was negatively associated with mentalizing. In Study 2 (N = 217), we examined whether individual differences in mentalizing and related traits were associated with patterns of resting-state functional connectivity in the brain. Performance on the theory of mind task was significantly associated with patterns of connectivity between the dorsal medial and core subsystems of the default network, consistent with evidence implicating these regions in mentalization.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by grants to Colin G. DeYoung from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R03 DA029177-01A1) and from the National Science Foundation (SES-1061817).
- default network
- theory of mind