The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” is meant to test Theory of Mind (ToM) or the ability to recognize and understand another person’s mental state. It’s supposed to be a more advanced test than “Fear, Anger, Joy“, which tests simple emotion recognition.
[It] contains 36 items with 4 answer choices for each item, increasing the possible range of scores along with the difficulty level. It also contains a balance of male and female photos, a choice between more closely related mental states (i.e. not a choice between opposites like sympathetic/unsympathetic), and is composed entirely of photos representing complex mental states.
In the original study to validate the test, the AS/HFA group scored a mean of 21.9 while the control had a mean of 26.2. However, the AS/HFA group had only 15 participants versus 239 controls. A sample size of 15 is small, especially for study in which participants only have to complete two questionnaires (the AQ and Reading the Mind the Mind in the Eyes. I’m curious why the researchers didn’t make an effort to obtain a larger AS/HFA sample when they had the resources to administer the test to so many controls.
I did the test, and scored 28, meaning I got 8 “wrong.” My wife got the same score. I found the test engaging but also bizarre, for several reasons. Before you read my impressions, however, go and do the test, here. It’s quick and fun, and it’s much better if you have your own experience before reading about mine.
Done that? OK, here are my initial thoughts.
1) Often, none of the words seemed to fit, so I had to take an almost random guess.
2) As my wife pointed out, all the women images are of younger females wearing eye make-up. This gives a more “seductive” quality to their expressions.
3) In some photos the eyes are not clearly visible.
4) The images appear to be old ones selected from different sources, books, portraits, magazines. How do the people who made this test know what the person was experiencing at the time of the photo being taken? Even if the person in the photo was available for comment, how can we be sure they were honest/self-aware enough to describe their feelings accurately?
5) Do people only “have” one feeling at a time?
6) Is tuning into someone’s feelings (empathy) by looking in the eyes wholly a matter of reading visual information? In other words, can reading a photographic image stand in for having the living person in front of us, with all the countless other factors in play (body language, scent, temperature, breathing, etc? I think it’s pretty obvious the answer to this is no.)
How useful is a test of this sort really? Like IQ tests, it seems to betray the bias of its designers, which presumably (and evidently) is an “NT” bias, the bias, for example, that a person always knows what they are feeling/communicating, or that the only ways to communicate feeling are the ones we agree upon socially.
Bottom line: basically it’s nonsense, but it’s nonsense that’s being used to diagnose people and that may even lead to intervention and treatment.