What does theory of mind have to do with NPD?
From interview at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/518449
Medscape: In your writing, you have used the term "theory of mind." Is that synonymous with empathizing?
Dr. Baron-Cohen: It's part of empathy. Theory of mind is being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes, being able to imagine what's going on in his or her mind. But imagining someone else's thoughts or feelings is only part of empathy. The other part is having [an appropriate] emotional reaction. The distinction is important because a psychopath might be able to figure out somebody else's thoughts quite accurately but wouldn't necessarily have an appropriate emotional response.
The first time I understood theory of mind was in the context of how dogs can read their masters and mistress's emotions and thoughts. Dogs know what you are thinking by your facial expressions, your body movements and by your gestures (perhaps by scents as well). An experiment was done with wolves and domesticated dogs. A human pointed at an object and the dog followed the human's gesture by looking where the human was pointing, the wolves were also shown an object by pointing, but they didn't look at the object; the researchers concluded that domesticated dogs had evolved to understand human actions (in a limited scope).
Autism expert Professor Baron Cohen from Cambridge University also postulates that autism is a form of mind blindness, or lack of theory of mind, and he attributes this to an extreme form of 'male' mind. Women are always complaining that men don't get it. In fact they don't. Men are not aware of all the emotional gestures and nuances in a conversation that women see and understand. Professor Baron Cohen has done tests showing pictures of eyes and mouths, with different expressions, and inevitably the women are better than men at reading the emotions expressed. He also has shown the same pictures to autistic men and women and they cannot see the differences in the pictures; they are mind blind i.e. lack theory of mind.
In experiments with young children, it was observed that girls will always sit facing each other, looking at each other's faces, and reading each other's body expressions. Boys will sit at right angles to each other and not look at each other during a conversation, leading the researchers to the conclusion that it is a sexual trait. Boys and then men do not read each other as well as women do. My own take on this is one of survival; men know that direct eye contact with another male is a provocation leading to aggression. Women are less aggressive physically and more cooperative socially therefore direct eye contact and ability to read each each other's emotions is essential for their survival in a male dominated culture.
When it comes to narcissism and their ability to read others, we have to note several things. First, narcissists are good at reading certain things about people, like all predators they can see the weaknesses in others. They don't always see if they are hurting the other person, because that isn't important, what they want is to subjugate the other person, make them into an emotional slave who will cater to their wishes.
Brain Plasticity - coming soon....