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Science
FRONTIERS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers who see the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well as hearing from their critics. Many such developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
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Listen to 14 April
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Wednesday 14 April  2004
Scissor, Paper, Stone
How does your brain try to guess what others' brains are thinking?

Predicting Behaviour

How do we understand each other? How and why do we care about others? In Frontiers this week, Peter Evans examines ground breaking research that is shedding new light on our unique ability to predict, explain and be sensitive to other people’s behaviour.

The extent to which we put our selves into other people’s shoes when trying to work out another person’s intentions, has long remained a mystery. But with the advent of new brain scanning technology, scientists for the first time are getting a new window onto the human ability to mentalize and also seeing how this skill develops in the young infant.

Peter Evans speaks to Narender Ramnani at Oxford University’s centre for MRI of the Brain who is examining competing theories as to how we can attribute mental states to others. Is it by simulating the other person’s mental processes, or is it by some deductive process that doesn’t involve simulation? Ramnani thinks he may have the answer.

And when does this "theory of mind" develop in infants. Up until recently it was thought that infants were born with an impressionable clean slate – but Alison Gopnik of University Southern California at Berkeley and Andrew Meltzoff of Washington University in Seattle now argue that the building blocks for mentalizing others' intentions may well be in place at birth.

And as Peter Evans discovers, these new insights could point the way to practical advances in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, where this skill in predicting others behaviour can go awry.
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