A Theory of Theory of Mind: Part 2

I ended my last post on this subject with a question. Is verbal IQ directly related to theory of mind?

It’s a tricky question, of course. This sort of thing is a venture into highly speculative territory (which is, of course, what makes it so fun). I believe the answer is “yes”. I believe there is a direct link between verbal IQ and theory of mind.

(Side Note: Why then did I devote so many words in my last post to hypothesizing an indirect connection? To explore some ideas I had and start laying out a possible map as to which cognitive processes are most strongly connected to each other.)

Bryce hit the nail on the head in the comments section, however.

“How do you verify the usage of words? By comparing observable behavior.

How do you construct a theory of mind? By comparing observable behavior.”

 In short, one becomes good with words by observing how they are used and how they can be manipulated, which is the same way that one learns to interact with people.So where does that leave some of my previous speculations? Well, let’s begin.

Before we tie up all these threads together though, it’s worth reading this article that was suggested to me by commenter Lesser Bull.

Let’s do some synthesis.

Charlton suggests the existence of two types of minds: Systemizing and Empathizing. The former is primarily wired to understand things, the latter is primarily wired to understanding people. These categories map fairly well onto my Verbal/Mathematical mental split. The Systemizers/Mathematical people tend towards developing mental models based on rational conclusions and step-by-step analysis. This makes them more inclined to mathematical reasoning and other subjects that require rigid frameworks (things that make sense…i.e mathematics, physics, Chess…etc). The Empathizers/Verbal people tend towards developing mental models based on empirical observations and prior results. This males them more inclined towards subjects that are less rigid and offer more of a human elements (things that sometimes seem irrational…i.e. psychology, poetry, anything heavily involving people…etc).

Interestingly enough, certain fields have a tendency to rely heavily on both types of intelligences (i.e. philosophy, law…etc) which enables people of both predilections to be able to succeed as long as they are able to shore up their weaker aspect.

Furthermore, I think the mathematical types tend to have more conscientiousness than associative horizon, and the verbal types more associative horizon and less conscientiousness than the mathematical types, though I’ll admit this is just wild speculation on my part.

Are these hard categories? Of course not. They are fuzzy clusters at best, and each of the components could be flipped to the “other” one without influencing any of the other characteristics (i.e. an introvert with high verbal IQ, associative horizon…etc). It is worth emphasizing that these are caricatures designed to represent opposite ends of a spectrum. Such extreme examples are uncommon in practice, but in understanding them we can better recognize patterns that occur.

Here’s a few more threads I think need to be tied together:

It’s my suspicion that Verbal IQ isn’t just tied to the written word, but also the spoken. Although spoken comprehension and written comprehension are slightly different skill-sets (as you will know if you have ever tried to develop proficiency in a foreign language), they are both tied to verbal IQ. Now, what happens if you are good at speaking? You can converse well with people, which gives you a better idea of what they are like, which contributes greatly to theory of mind. It’s tenuous, I know, but it’s something, and there seems to be something to it.

Additionally, let’s look at something I wrote previously:

“I have a powerful intuition that theory of mind is strongly linked to verbal IQ, which would imply that verbal intelligence is strongly linked to navigating social environments and the commensurate abilities that entails, such as being able to tell friend from foe and engage with people who are either of those things. If this is the case, perhaps it is not a good thing that IQ shredders might only be deleterious to verbal, and not mathematical or visuo-spatial intelligence…

I also suspect that verbal IQ also be related to ones ability to navigate rules and social structures. I have no idea how this connection might work, yet I can’t help but suspect that there is a link here that is waiting to be uncovered. I will return to this subject if I manage to put together a plausible-sounding theory or otherwise find evidence to support or disprove this possibility.”

Let’s see if I can do any better than I did 5 months ago. Theory of mind and verbal IQ go hand-in-hand due the the underlying way in which both are developed, which is through empirical means. This ability to speak well and deal with people well not only lends one to navigate social structures well, but also established rules. Why should this be?

The social thing should be obvious enough at this point. As for the rules? Well, part of this boils down to that rational-type processing interacting with the verbal-type processing (knowing EXACTLY what the rules mean and being able to understand the EXACT implications) and part of it boils down to being able to understand what the people who set the rules were thinking, what the people enforcing them are thinking, and how to get away with breaking them.

Finally, I think I’ll conclude by stating explicitly what I have already been implying: that a preference for rationality contributes to skill in mathematical processing and a preference for empiricism contributes to verbal IQ and theory of mind. Does this process also go the other way (verbal IQ contributing to preference for empiricism and mathematical IQ contributing to preference for rationality)? I don’t know, but I suspect that this is very much the case.

I can’t speak to the role of genetics in this process, but I will guess that the tendency to which one gravitates is determined mostly by genes.

Is there some deeper underlying factor that I might be missing here? Possibly. In fact, I’m half-expecting that (I generally assume that there is probably some factor that I’m missing when I dive into these sorts of things). Still, I think it is safe to assume that verbal IQ and mathematical IQ, while correlated with many cognitive factors, are more strongly correlated with some processes than others and that they are decent indicators of two very particulars types of mind at work.

I started digging into this topic to answer a single question: Why is it that people who are brilliant at objective analysis are terrible at understanding people (and vice versa, to a certain degree)?

My final answer? People who are good at analyzing objects have a cognitive processing style that makes them good at analyzing objects (i.e. mathematical IQ, conscientiousness..etc). Their skill in this area comes at the expense of understanding people, who are not objects and behave differently than objects, and so require a different suite of cognitive traits to understand (verbal IQ, associative horizon…etc). It may not be the best answer, but I think it is a fairly good one.

You’ll notice, however, that this schema falls apart when applied to sociopaths, autistics, and anyone else who is not quite “neurotypical”. Dare I wander into this morass and sort it all out?

I can’t wait to find out…

SPQR

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