- In a study we have made an attempt to clarify the relationship between mindreading capacity and the ability and commitment for social contact (Paal and Bereczkei 2006). The basic hypothesis is that one’s achievement in theory of mind - the ability to construct mental representations of the mental states of other people – deeply influences the ways one shapes social relationships. In order to evaluate the individual differences in mindreading capacity, a series of 14 stories were read to participants, that required listeners to understand the perspective and intentions of the actors. The participants were then presented with a booklet with questions concerning information contained in the stories. The majority of questions referred to the theory of mind elements of the stories, that is the expectations and beliefs of the participants. Other questions were memory questions that referred to the physical events and their causal relationships.
- In the second step, using the Social Cooperativeness subscale of a Big Five personality test, we measured the individual’s capacity and commitment for cooperation. In the third step of empirical study, participants were asked to complete the Mach IV questionnaire. This test is frequently used for measuring the so-called Machiavellian intelligence that is basically a manipulative and exploitative kind of social intelligence.
- Our results showed a strong negative correlation between Machiavellianism and social cooperative skills that is not an unexpected finding since Machiavellian people were found to exploit others, regardless of the consequences concerning those exploited. Second, a connection between the extent of cooperative tendency and the level of mindreading was found. People who show cooperative intention to a greater extent have higher-level mental state attribution capacity than those with a lower level of cooperative tendencies. This is probable, because people who excel in understanding others’ thoughts and emotions find it easier to place themselves in a social interaction and initiate mutual support with those they find worth taking this effort for. This is especially true for empathic concern: people who have advanced mindreading skills – thus they are more successful in experiencing and understanding others’ hardships – are supposedly more effective in helping others.
- Finally, we did not find significant correlation between theory of mind and Machiavellianism. It is possible that in our experiment high level of Machiavellianism did not co-occur with similarly high level of mindreading, because the former impeded the normal expression of the latter. A related assumption is that Machiavellians with a good skill in cold empathy lack the desire or motivation to feel what others are feeling. Naturally, testing these assumptions requires further research, primarily such investigations that analyze the participants’ manipulative or cooperative behavior in real-life situations rather than paper-and-pencil tests.
- Bereczkei, T. és Tóth, P. (2010) A korrupció mint a vetélkedés és együttműködés sajátos formája. In: Együttműködés – Versengeés. Szerk. Rab V. és Deák A.., Gondolat Kiadó, Bp. pp. 236-243.
- Paál T., Bereczkei T. (2006) Elmeteória, együttműködés,, machiavellizmus: a felnőttkori elmeolvasó képesség hatása a társas kapcsolatokra. Magyar pszichológiai Szemle 61: 511-532.
- Bereczkei T. (2007) Gének és személyiség. In: Vázlatok a személyiségről. a személyiség-lélektan alapvető irányzatainak tükrében (Szerk. Gyöngyösiné Kiss E. és Oláh A.) Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 59-82. o.
- Paal T. and Bereczkei T (2007). Adult theory of mind, Machiavellianism, and cooperation: the effect of mindreading on social relations. Personality and Individual Differences 43: 541-551.