Who’s the Best at Reading Minds?

Reading minds isn’t a superpower. It’s something we do every day, sometimes without even thinking about it.

Of course, our attempts at guessing what’s going on in the minds of others aren’t always successful. And some people are better at mind reading than others.

This latter phenomenon is what researchers from Germany and Sweden explored in a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology. In the study, they assessed the mind reading abilities of 545 men and women between the ages of 17 and 70. Then they looked for patterns in which demographic groups tended to be better at inferring what was going through other people’s minds.

They found that, on average, women were better than men at mind reading. This result replicated previous research, but the researchers went a step further in showing part of the reason why this might be the case.

In particular, the researchers found that women had an advantage when it came to reading the minds of other women. By contrast, men didn’t have an edge when it came to reading the minds of people with the same gender. Together, these results suggest that part of of the reason women perform better on mind reading tasks on average lies in the fact that women specifically have an advantage in figuring out what’s going through the minds of other women.

The study also showed that mind reading, like other cognitive abilities, appears to be affected by aging. Young people tended to have better mind reading abilities. On average, people’s mind reading scores started a decline around the age of 30 that continued over the rest of the lifespan.

Of course, there’s plenty of individual variation in people’s mind reading abilities. Not every young person is going to be a master mind reader, and not every man is going to be hopelessly clueless about what other people are thinking. Still, the results show that on the whole, certain groups of people tend to be slightly better at mind reading than others, with women and young people showing the best performance overall.

Image: Flickr/Marina del Castell