Joint inferences of belief and desire from facial expressions

Yang WuMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
Chris BakerMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Josh TenenbaumMIT
Laura SchulzMIT

Abstract

Theory of mind research has looked at how learners infer an agent’s unobservable mental states from observable actions. However, such research has tended to neglect another observable source of data: the agent’s reactions to events. In particular, the agent’s facial reactions might provide important information about her mental states that are otherwise ambiguous given her actions. Here we present a Bayesian framework and a behavioral study testing how adults use an agent’s facial reactions to reason backward about her beliefs and desires. We found that participants’ joint inferences of belief and desire from facial expressions were predicted by a Bayesian model analysis, based on integrating the likelihoods of the observed facial reactions and the observed action with their prior over mental states. We argue that people’s naïve theory of emotional reactions is structurally and causally intertwined with theory of mind in a way that allows forward prediction and backward inference.

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Joint inferences of belief and desire from facial expressions (1.0 MB)



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