The brain has two systems for thinking about other's thoughts
on 09 May 2020
children, mirrors of us

If you want your children to have a great future, the earlier you start the better. Obviously, when I say the earlier you start, I am referring to you! You are the example your children use to interpret life and the greater the bond you develop, the more they are likely to imitate you because imitation is the greatest form of flattery and children will work you like a toy soldier to please you and to get what they want! After all, they are master manipulators . . . 

Teach your children things they won't learn at school:

What the emotion of love is, how to value and use money and how to express human emotions effectively, e.g. anger being at the top of the list! And, how to study, what focus and concentration actually mean. There are so many words we use, almost on a daily basis and we do not fully know what they mean!

One of the nice things about being where I am in life at the moment, is I have two young grandchildren, a grandson age 9 and a granddaughter aged 17 months. Our grandson lives in Sydney and we were lucky enough to get to spend a lot of time with him when he was young. Of course, that meant a few trips to Sydney each year about a month at a time, so we got to see him every day for 3 months over the year. Our granddaughter is a little closer to home, in Singapore, and while we see her regularly, we don't actually get to spend as much time with her. But over the Circuit Breaker period, we've spoken to her (in the usual baby talk) almost every day. So in some sense, this tickles a few memories and, hopefully, will allow me to observe things with a little more interest as she approaches three or four!

Anyone who has or had three or four-year-olds will be able to relate to this research because it is absolutely amazing how their brain's work. Before they can even speak a word, they can respond efficiently to word commands, they can understand language, body language and facial expressions, to varying degrees, and you just know they get it too! So, it is interesting to get a handle of which parts of the brain are responding and developing over the early and developing years. The real value of this, of course, is, if we know what is happening and certain ages of their development, then it provides us with an opportunity to feed them some really important stuff. Not food but rather food for thought because the way children learn in those early years is mostly through observation and imitation. So, be very careful about how you behave, what you say, how you say it and even more careful about the way you express emotions. We need to teach children about emotions so that they can understand them and the earlier they learn those emotions; the better.

But, that can be a tough gig because very few clients that I see can actually manage their own emotions and if you cannot manage your own, how the heck are you going to teach your own children to manage theirs? Well, let me share with you a little secret . . . when you learn to manage emotions like anger, frustration, anxiety, stress, guilt, disgust or shame, it doesn't mean you will never experience them again! I have clients who come in to manage their anger and often say, I never want to get angry again, I want to manage my anger. That is unrealistic and it's been this way for thousands of years. In fact, around 2,360 years ago, Aristotle said, "Anyone can become angry, that is so easy. But to become angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not so easy!" 

The more we learn about our emotions because we all express them differently, the more we are able to teach others. The emotions I deal with the most, are stress and anxiety, which are merely variant expressions of the same emotion - fear - anger, which also involves fear (fight or flight). Confidence is another big one, which also involves fear/anxiety, as does low self-esteem, self-worth and the lack of self-respect! So, as you delve into emotions, you begin to understand that the most pervasive emotion we experience, is fear! That is because there are only two primary emotions, that which we call love and that we call fear! Love (or its neurochemical correlates) creates, and fear (and its neurochemical correlates) protects. The emotion of fear is a consequence of our threat detection system becoming active and this can happen in as little as 30 to 40 milliseconds; incredibly quickly! What do I mean when I say "its neurochemical correlates?" Essentially I am referring to two parts of the autonomic nervous system, the first being the sympathetic NS and the other, the parasympathetic NS. There is a third, the enteric NS but that is often ignored but it is important as it plays a major role in digestion and some aspects of body function. It is sometimes referred to as the second brain and hormones like acetylcholine, serotonin and dopamine (and all neurotransmitters in the brain) are a key subject of much research. However, the ENS is largely ignored because it can function independently of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

In terms of function, the sympathetic NS is linked to the stress response and the parasympathetic, the relaxation response. Both of these are linked to breathing, in (sympathetic) and out (parasympathetic). So, if you breathe in for three seconds and. out for six (s   l   o   w   l   y), you get a greater parasympathetic (relaxation) response. Hence why people for thousands of years, when seeing someone have 'a moment,' they say . . . calm down, take a deep breath! However, when you ask most people to take a deep breath, you see their chest rise, this means they are chest breathing. The type of breathing we need to learn is diaphragmatic breathing. This is the way newborns breathe, their little tummy is going up and down like a piston in an internal combustion engine. That is a real clue to learning to manage emotion because the diaphragm plays a very important role in how we function, way beyond its connections with breathing. It literally stimulates both our brain and spinal column. In a deep breath, the brain mass can actually move as much as 23mm and similar movement, not as dynamic, can be observed in the spine. This is similar to the way muscles become healthy in response to weight training.

Hypnotherapy is not, or at least shouldn't be, just about hypnosis and therapeutic intervention, it should be about taking a holistic approach to life. In order to function to our utmost potential, we need to focus on "all of the basics," i.e. breathing, hydration, food, sleep, exercise, in all its forms and then hypnosis will work much more effectively. It is still good if you ignore the basics, obviously not too much, and mostly this is the place many clients are already in. Very few clients breathe properly, 99% do not breathe properly (diaphragmatically), many are somewhat dehydrated and many have poor diets. You will survive but for some, longevity could be impaired. But the quality of one's life is not expressed in the number of years they live, It's what they achieve in those years that really counts and all of this is an intrinsic part of the way I deliver my therapy! So, if you want to live a good life, why not make an appointment for a free consultation? See below for the link to a new future!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little or poor quality sleep and too little by way of mental and emotional clarity! So, to get or take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious brain's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want the ability to make your life feel better, then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

My objective is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into emotional experiences that may actually be happening but for reasons, we may never have imagined! If you want to know more about Hypnotherapy, why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research:

The brain seems to have two different systems through which we can put ourselves into the shoes of someone else. These two systems mature at different times such that only 4-year-olds can understand what another person is thinking, and not, as some have assumed, 1-year-olds.

In order to understand what another person thinks and how he or she will behave we must take someone else's perspective. This ability is referred to as the Theory of Mind. Until recently, researchers were at odds concerning the age at which children are able to do such perspective-taking. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS), University College London, and the Social Neuroscience Lab Berlin shed new light on this question in a study now published in the journal PNAS. Only 4-year-olds seem to be able to understand what others think. The study reports that this unique ability emerges around 4 years of age because of the maturation of a specific brain network that enables this. Younger children are already capable of predicting others' behaviour based on what they think, but the study shows that this prediction of behaviour relies on a different brain network. The brain seems to have two different systems to take another person's perspective, and these mature at different rates.

The researchers investigated these relations in a sample of 3- to 4-year-old children with the help of video clips that show a cat chasing a mouse. The cat watches the mouse hiding in one of two boxes. While the cat's away, the mouse sneaks over to the other box, unnoticed by the cat. Thus, when the cat returns, it should still believe that the mouse is in the first location.

Using eye-tracking technology, the scientists analysed the looking behaviour of their study participants and noticed: Both, the 3- and 4-year-olds expected the cat to go to the box where the mouse had originally been. That is, they predicted correctly where the cat was going to search for the mouse based on the cat's belief.

Interestingly, when the scientists asked the children directly where the cat will search for the mouse, instead of looking at their gaze, 3-year-olds answered incorrectly. Only 4-years-olds succeeded. Control conditions ensured that this was not because the younger children misunderstood the question.

The reason for this discrepancy was a different one. The study shows that different brain structures were involved in verbal reasoning about what the cat thinks as opposed to non-verbal predictions of how the cat is going to act. The researchers refer to these brain structures as regions for implicit and explicit Theory of Mind. These cortical brain regions mature at different ages to fulfil their function. The supramarginal gyrus that supports non-verbal action prediction matures earlier and is also involved in visual and emotional perspective-taking. "This enables younger children to predict how people will act. The temporoparietal junction and precuneus through which we understand what others think -- and not just what they feel and see or how they will act -- only develops to fulfil this function at the age of 4 years," first author Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann from the MPI CBS explains.

"In the first three years of life, children don't seem to fully understand yet what others think," says co-author Nikolaus Steinbeis from the University College London. "But there already seems to be a mechanism a basic form of perspective-taking, by which very young children simply adopt the other's view." 

Story Source:

Materials provided by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain SciencesNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann, Angela D. Friederici, Tania Singer, Nikolaus Steinbeis. Two systems for thinking about others’ thoughts in the developing brainProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 201916725 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1916725117

Cite This Page:

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. "The brain has two systems for thinking about others' thoughts." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2020. <>