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Stanford scholars probe how Americans think about mental life

“Is a robot capable of experiencing guilt?” was one of the questions Stanford researchers asked to probe how people make sense of the sensations, emotions and thoughts that make up mental life. (Image credit: PhonlamaiPhon / Getty Images)

Oct 20 2017

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Faculty, In the News, Students

Most people don’t have answers to the big questions about consciousness or the meaning of life, but they do have a way of thinking about and categorizing mental life. It comes down to three things – body, heart and mind.

When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

What they found is that Americans break mental life into three parts – body, heart and mind – a finding that challenges earlier research on this topic and could have important implications for understanding people’s social interactions and moral judgments. The findings were published Oct. 11 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.