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One can never know the internal workings of another person – one can only infer others’ mental states based on external cues. In contrast, each person has direct access to the contents of their own mind. Here we test the hypothesis that this privileged access shapes the way people represent internal mental experiences, such that they represent their own mental states more distinctly than the states of others. Across four studies, participants considered their own and others’ mental states; analyses measured the distinctiveness of mental state representations. Two neuroimaging studies used representational similarity analyses to demonstrate that the social brain manifests more distinct activity patterns when thinking about one’s own states versus others’. Two behavioral studies support these findings. Further, they demonstrate that people differentiate between states less as social distance increases. Together these results suggest that we represent our own mind with greater granularity than the minds of others.
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