Humans rely on social interaction to achieve many important goals. These interactions rely in turn on people’s capacity to understand others’ mental states: their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires. Do different cultures achieve this ability in different ways, or do universal principles describe how all peoples understand mental states? Here we investigated mental state representation in 57 countries, 17 languages, and 4 historical societies. We quantified mental state understanding by analyzing large bodies of text produced by each culture. We then tested whether a theory of mental state representation – the 3d Mind Model – could explain which mental states were similar in each culture’s text. The model explained mental state representation in all cultures studied, suggesting that universal principles describe how people understand other minds.
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