Date of Award

8-1-2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Lakshmanan, Usha

Abstract

Theory of Mind (ToM) is often defined as “the ability to reason about mental states, such as beliefs, desires, and intentions, and to understand how mental states feature in everyday explanations and predictions of people’s behavior” (Apperly, 2012, p. 825). Recent research has introduced questions about performance on ToM tasks in emerging adulthood, a developmental period (ages 18-27) where exploration and identity formation occurs. The current study examined group differences between college students with acting experience, a population hypothesized to excel in ToM and empathy, and students without acting experience on cognitive and affective measures of ToM and empathy. The current study (N=162) used multiple tasks to measure ToM the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (RME), Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC), Faux Pas task (detection and belief subscales). All four subscales (perspective taking, fantasizing, empathic concern, personal distress) of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was used to measure empathy. It was hypothesized that students with acting experience would perform significantly better than those without acting experience on all measures of ToM and empathy. It was also hypothesized that the way emerging adults process identity relevant information, as assessed by the Identity Style Inventory (ISI), would be related to ToM and empathy. Students with acting experience performed significantly better on the RME task and the belief subscale of the Faux Pas task. Better performance on the RME task and the belief subscale of the Faux pas task suggest advantages in emotion processing and belief reasoning for students with acting experience. No group differences were observed on the IRI. Informational processing style was positively related to all measures of ToM and all empathy measures except the personal distress subscale of the IRI. Normative and diffuse-avoidant identity processing style was negatively related to all measures of ToM and the personal distress subscale of the IRI. Normative identity processing style was negatively related to the fantasizing subscale of the IRI. The current study supports a relationship between identity processing style in emerging adulthood and measures of ToM and empathy. A factor analysis was conducted to examine relationships between ToM and empathy, finding no distinctions between affective and cognitive dimensions but a clear difference between ToM and empathy. Students with acting experience performed significantly better on the ToM factor but no other factors, supporting the previous analyses. Implications for further research, therapeutic interventions, and occupational training integrating acting experience are discussed.

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