3rd Workshop:

Methodological issues relevant to testing and measuring Theory of Mind, empathy and related social behaviours

September 13th & 14th, 2018

Technische Universität Dresden


Philipp Kanske & Matthias Schurz

This workshop aims at reviewing and discussing current methodological challenges and perspectives for measuring of Theory of Mind, empathy and related social behaviours by bringing together researchers from cognitive, neuroscientific, and philosophical fields. In a first part, the meaning of observed differences and overlaps between cognitive tests of social behaviour will be discussed. Second, a novel perspective on how social knowledge might be implemented in terms of representational spaces in the brain is presented. Finally, classical and more recent philosophical theories of social understanding will be reviewed, and discussed with relation to psychological and neuroscientific research.

Keynote Speakers:

Ian Apperly

School of Psychology, University of Birmingham

"The mismeasure of mindreading"

It feels intuitively true that some people are more socially able than others, and given the extensive research interest in mindreading, it seems natural to expect that variation in mindreading might help explain variation in social ability. Testing these expectations requires good measures of social ability and of mindreading. However, both turn out to be difficult to achieve. Common measures of social ability rely on self-report, which may be challenging for individuals with low social ability. Common measures of mindreading suffer from low validity, low transparency, low variance, or some combination of these problems. I will highlight the strong points of previous work, exciting work from several groups who are tackling these problems, and some directions for further advances.

Mark A. Thornton

Princeton Social Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Princeton University

"Modeling the predictive social mind: using multivariate neuroimaging to understand how social knowledge is organized and used for prediction"

Social life requires people to predict the future: we must anticipate others’ thoughts, feelings, and actions in order to interact with them successfully. How do our brains supply us with these essential glimpses of the social future? In this talk, I will describe a framework for modeling predictive social cognition. This theory posits, first, that the mind organizes social knowledge – i.e., representations of others’ traits, mental states, and actions – using low-dimensional representational spaces. Second, these representational spaces not only allow us to grasp the richness of others’ minds, but also provide a scaffolding for making social predictions. Specifically, proximity within these spaces predicts the likelihood of transitions between emotions and behaviors. This framework has emerged from, and been tested in, recent neuroimaging investigations of mental state and trait representation. These investigations have, in turn, relied on the use of nascent multivariate analysis methods, such as representational similarity analysis and voxelwise encoding models. In the first portion of the talk, I will discuss how these techniques have shed light on the neural organization of social knowledge. In the second part of the talk, I will discuss how these methods have also improved our understanding of the social brain’s predictive processes. Together, these findings will illustrate how the development of sophisticated neuroimaging methods and formal psychological theories naturally complement each other in the service of understand the social mind.

Anika Fiebich

Centre for the Study of Social Action, Department of Philosophy, University of Milan

"Theories of social understanding: methodological issues in the contemporary debate"

In my talk, I will argue for a pluralist approach to the explanation of social understanding that integrates literature from social psychology with the theory of mind. There are two main schools in the contemporary debate: (i) Theory Theory (TT), and (ii) Simulation Theory (ST). According to TT, we understand other minds by means of folk psychological theories. ST, in contrast, claims that we put ourselves imaginatively ‘into the shoes’ of another person and simulate the thoughts and feelings we would experience in his or her situation. Both of these theories share the assumption that social understanding is essentially an observational enterprise that relies on the attribution of mental states such as beliefs and desires. This assumption gets rejected by Interaction Theory (IT) that emphasizes the dedicated role that embodied intersubjective practices and the dynamics of interaction play in social understanding. First, I will review a number of findings from psychology and neurosciences that have been considered to support any of these theories and I will point to some methodological difficulties to solve the controversies in that debate. Then I will present Pluralist Theory (PT) that accounts for a variety of (social) cognitive processes that may come into play in a particular instance of social understanding, dependent on factors such as context, social relationships and cognitive effort. I will argue that PT trumps alternatives in accommodating a wide range of psychological and neuroscientific research.

Abstract submission


Abstract submission deadline: May 31st, 2018


We invite submissions from psychology, philosophy, and neurosciences and neighboring disciplines for contributory talks and poster presentations. If you would like to present a poster or talk, please submit an 250 word abstract (note: The poster presentation includes a one-minute presentation of the poster in front of the whole audience).


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Registration fee: €50

Registration deadline: August 31st, 2018

A confirmation of receipt will be sent within 10 days after registration



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If you have any questions regarding the upcoming workshop, send us a message:

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Note:  Asterisk * indicates required fields