ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 6

Mind Theorist Finds the Keys to Conflict Resolution in Neuroscience

Knowledge of how the brain intuits what someone else is thinking helps Rebecca Saxe devise possible solutions to seemingly intractable political and social conflicts

More In This Article

Have you ever stopped to consider what a brilliant mind reader you are? If someone in your field of view experiences a sudden happy thought or a wave of anger, you do not need to be told. You just seem to know. Of course, this ability is not based on psychic powers but on the reading of small clues: a distinctive curl of the lips for joy, a clenching of the jaw for pique. Think of how a mime, working without words, can evoke an entire story, with multiple characters, each with their own intentions, beliefs and desires—all because we are remarkably skilled at imagining the mental lives of others.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rebecca Saxe, 33, is part of a scientific movement to better understand this ability, known as theory of mind. Saxe established that there is a single location in the brain, the right temporoparietal junction, where this thinking is centered. The finding surprised neuroscientists because theory of mind is an abstract and involved ability, the kind they would have expected to involve large swaths of the cortex. Yet, according to Saxe, this little section of brain, just behind the right ear, drives much of what we associate with humanity—conversation, friendship, love, empathy, morality. And art: theory of mind is why humans write novels and why they read them.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X