Theory of Mind (ToM) refers to the ability to compute and attribute mental states to ourselves and other people. It is currently unclear whether ToM abilities are universal or whether they can be culturally influenced. To address this question, this research explored potential differences in engagement of ToM processes between two different cultures, Western (individualist) and Chinese (collectivist), using a sample of healthy adults. Participants completed a computerised false-belief task, in which they attributed beliefs to either themselves or another person, in a matched design, allowing direct comparison between “Self”- and “Other”-oriented conditions. Results revealed that both native-English speakers and native-Chinese individuals responded significantly faster to self-oriented than other-oriented questions. Results also showed that when a trial required a “perspective-shift,” participants from both cultures were slower to shift from Self-to-Other than from Other-to-Self. Results indicate that despite differences in collectivism scores, culture does not influence task performance, with similar results found for both Western and non-Western participants, suggesting core and potentially universal similarities in the ToM mechanism across these two cultures.
Bradford, E., Jentzsch, I., Gomez, J-C., Chen, Y., Zhang, D., & Su, Y. (2018). Cross-cultural differences in adult Theory of Mind abilities: A comparison of native-English speakers and native Chinese speakers on the Self/Other Differentiation task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(12), 2665-2676. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747021818757170