Women 'much better' at mind-reading than men, Cardiff University study finds

Cardiff University researchers teamed up with universities of London and Bath to design a new mind-reading test. Credit: ITV Wales

Women are much better at reading what other people are thinking than men, according to a new study.

Psychologists at Cardiff University, as well as universities of Bath and London, designed a mind-reading test using data from more than 4,000 autistic and non-autistic people in the UK and US.

Results from the simple, four-step questionnaire were scored from four to 16 - with four indicating poor mind-reading abilities and 16 the highest level.

A total of 2,900 people completed the questionnaire, with the average score between 12 and 13.

But women consistently reported better scores than men - on average, men scored 12.1 while women scored 12.6.

Researchers said the tool had potential clinical utility to identify people who have mind-reading difficulties and provide them with appropriate extra support.

Women scored consistently higher marks on the questionnaire. Credit: PA Images

Senior author Dr Lucy Livingston, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: "The ability to understand other people's minds is really important for successful social interaction among humans.

"However, so far we know very little about why some people are particularly good at – or struggle with – mind-reading.

"We've now developed a really simple, easy-to-use tool to measure this ability. This should be useful for large-scale research to better understand why people differ in this ability and what the consequences might be for a host of life outcomes."

Dr Punit Shah, from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, said: "Much of how we communicate relies on our understanding of what others are thinking, yet this is a surprisingly complex process that not everyone can do.

"By focusing carefully on measuring mind-reading, without confusing it with empathy, we are confident that we have just measured mind-reading.

"When doing this, we consistently find that females reported greater mind-reading abilities than their male counterparts."

Mind-reading, sometimes referred to in psychology as mentalising, is the ability to pick-up on subtle behavioural cues that may indicate someone is thinking something they are not saying.

The researchers said people all have different mind-reading abilities, with some inherently better than others.

They added that this can particularly pose challenges for people with autism, where it can lead to social struggles in building or maintaining relationships.