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Many Minds

Mar 22, 2023

Let’s face it, we're all a little bit self-involved. It’s not just that we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. There’s another layer to it: we spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think about us. We take pains to present ourselves in the best possible light; we fret over whether we made a good impression; and we do our best to shape and manage our reputations. It’s honestly hard to imagine not doing any of this—seeing ourselves from the outside can feel like pure reflex. But what are the deeper origins of this tendency? When does it arise in childhood? What are the underpinnings and consequences of reputational thinking?

My guests today are Dr. Mika Asaba, a postdoc in the Psychology Department at Yale University, and Dr. Hyo Gweon, Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Together, Mika and Hyo recently published a paper about reputational thinking in young children.  

In this conversation, we talk about the broader context of this research and lay out some concepts central to it, like “self-presentational behavior" and "theory of mind." We walk through four experiments in which 3- and 4-year-old children showed a clear interest in their reputations. They strategically communicated to certain people—or about certain events—to make sure they came across well. We then consider the provocative possibility that humans are especially motivated to think about others’ minds when those other minds are thinking about us. We discuss whether similar reputation-related behaviors might be present in other species, and how reputational thinking might vary across cultures. Finally, we touch on a few ways Hyo and Mika are hoping to extend this work into new terrain.

 Honestly I got excited about this paper just by reading the first few sentences of the abstract. It takes on such an obviously big and rich and fascinating research question. That basic reflex—to see ourselves through the eyes of others—feels so elemental and so critical to understanding the human mind. Alright friends, without further ado, here’s my conversation with Dr. Mika Asaba & Dr. Hyo Gweon. Enjoy!


 A transcript of this episode is available here.


Notes and links

4:30 – Both Dr. Asaba and Dr. Gweon spent time in Rebecca Saxe’s lab at MIT. 

7:00 – The website for Dr. Gweon’s ‘Social Learning Lab’ at Stanford. A recent review article by Dr. Gweon describing her lab’s research program.

9:30 – A recent review chapter by Dr. Asaba and Dr. Gweon about how children learn about themselves through praise.

13:00 – In a recent follow-up study to the main paper discussed in this episode, Dr. Asaba, Dr. Gweon, and colleagues examined whether children would demonstrate their competence to a puppet.

15:00 – One of the most influential studies of “theory of mind” capacities in young children, which pioneered the “false belief” paradigm, is here. A meta-analysis of some of the early work on theory of mind; a more recent review article. We discussed “theory of mind” at some length in our recent episode on stories. 

19:00 – The paper by Dr. Asaba and Dr. Gweon reporting the four experiments we discuss appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It is available here. 

36:00 ­– See our earlier episode with Michael Tomasello.

40:00 – A recent review on the personality dimension of “conscientiousness.”



Achieving a good impression: Reputation management and performance goals,’ by Kayla Good and Alex Shaw 

Planning with theory of mind,’ by Mark Ho, Rebecca Saxe, and Fiery Cushman


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte and with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd. Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala.

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