02/20/07 - mindsight

In today's excerpt - the ability to apprehend what seems to be going through someone else's mind - what neuroscientists call mindsight:

"Consider the following well-established tests, used in experiments on mindsight to chart a child's progress:

"* At about eighteen months, place a large mark on a baby's forehead, then have her look in a mirror. Typically those younger than eighteen months will touch the mark on the image in the mirror; those older will touch their own forehead. The younger babies have not yet learned to recognize themselves. Social awareness requires that we have a sense of self, distinguishing us from others.

"* Offer a child around eighteen months old two different snacks, such as crackers or apple slices. Watch which one the child prefers. Let the child observe you taste each of the snacks, as you exhibit clear disgust at the child's choice and show a strong preference for the opposite choice. Then place the child's hand between the two snacks and ask, 'Can you give me one?' Children younger than eighteen months will generally offer the snack they liked; older ones will offer the snack   preferred.

"* For three- and four-year-olds, hide a treat somewhere in a room while this child and an older child watch. Have the older child leave the room. Then make sure the younger child sees you move the treat to a new hiding place. Ask the younger child where the older child will look for the treat when he comes back into the room. Four-year-olds will usually say he will look in the original hiding place; three-year-olds will guess the new place. Four-year-olds have realized that someone else's understanding can be different than their own, a lesson the younger ones have not yet grasped.

"* The last experiment involves three- and four-year-olds and a hand puppet called Mean Monkey. You show children successively several pairs of stickers, and for each pair Mean Monkey asks which sticker the child wants. On every round Mean Monkey chooses for himself the child's preferred sticker, leaving the other for the child. (That's why he's called Mean Monkey.) By around age four, children 'get' Mean Monkey's game, and quickly learn to tell him the opposite of what they really want—and so end up with their desired sticker. Younger children typically don't understand the puppet's mean intention and so innocently continue telling the truth, never getting the sticker they want. ...

"As growing children master these social lessons ... their empathy approaches that of an adult. With this maturity, part of innocence ends."


Daniel Goleman


Social Intelligence: The Science of Human Relationships


Bantam Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2006 by Daniel Goleman


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