Regulating Future Emotional Outcomes Using Theory of Mind


  • Flavia Ifeoma-Viktoria Nwankwo University of Vienna
  • Ildikó Király Eötvös Loránd University



Emotion regulation refers to the different ways humans influence their emotions when they have them and when that emotion materializes to be experienced at a given time and in the social context [1]. There are two types of emotion regulation. Intrapersonal emotion regulation deals with the regulator’s self-concept, while interpersonal emotion regulation is when people try to modulate other people’s emotions [1]. There are different strategies to regulate our emotions, which have been extensively studied. Those strategies include some form of cognitive reappraisal, distraction, and suppression of the emotions we experience in certain situations [1]. Planning, on the other hand, refers to a mechanism that is used for action selection to induce or influence future outcomes to potential regulatory interventions to maximize the expected outcome of the user [2]. Other studies have studied action selection causal models in terms of model re-enforcement learning and other causal models; however, Ho [2] proposed that the prediction model of theory of mind can also be used as an action selection model for planning interventions.


The study aims to test whether planning uses Theory of Mind as both a prediction and action selection model for interpersonal emotion regulation to understand how the planning would work within affective mental states. We hypothesize that participants will anticipate the following action if it lines up with the given context but fail if what is expected does not correspond with the context. They will also exhibit slower reaction times when doing the task. The task is a modified version of Caillaud [3] fMRI task, which sets out to measure participants’ responses to emotional stimuli to expected and unexpected action in a social context. The paradigm should reveal if people can anticipate an upcoming action or reaction from in a situation. Participants will be first shown expression photos and context videos that provide the social context. Participants will then be shown the slide of an expected or unexpected expression stimulus and will have to predict which one will come next. Eye tracking will also be used to measure pupil dilation. Psychopy and R programming will be used for data collection and analysis respectively.


[1] K. Niven, “The four key characteristics of interpersonal emotion regulation,” Current Opinion in Psychology, vol. 17, pp. 89–93, 2017.

[2] M. K. Ho, R. Saxe, and F. Cushman, “Planning with theory of mind,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 26, no. 11, pp. 959–971, 2022.

[3] M. Caillaud, A. Benjanin, M . Laisney, P . Gagnepain, M . Gaubert, A . Viard, P . Clochon,V . de La Sayette, P . Allain, F . Eustache, B . Desgranges , “Influence of emotional complexity on the neural substrates of affective theory of mind,” Human Brain Mapping, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 139–149, 2019.