Development and preliminary application of an instrument to detect partial dissociation of emotional mental state knowledge and non-emotional mental state knowledge.
Theory of mind is the ability to have mental states about mental states. Among theories concerning the structure and role of theory of mind is the view that theory of mind is the cognitive component of empathy. It is proposed that there is partial dissociation within theory of mind between emotional state representation and non-emotional state representation. In trying to test this hypothesis, an instrument was developed and implemented in a pilot study. Current theory of mind tests are reviewed and design features discussed in relation to the new hypothesis. The instrument aims to measure emotional and non-emotional state representation on separate subscales, as well as coding representations from emotional stories and non-emotional stories separately. The instrument was administered to 33 third level or higher students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Groups were chosen from science major (n = 9) and humanities major (n = 24) students. The findings fail to show the group performance patterns reported in literature, for example that humanities students tend to score higher in ToM tests than science students. A number of factors might contribute to the finding, but principally, low sample size and unequal general cognitive ability between groups are proposed as vital. Problems with the pilot study are identified and improvements suggested for subsequent testing.