The ability to read a person's thoughts and feeling or just the simple act of understanding why a character behaves in a certain way or expresses an unexpected attitude has recently been the object of very interesting study by cognitive scientists and psychologists as well as by scholars of literature in terms of characters to decode within a literary text. The literary critic, Lisa Zunshine, has tried to determine why we sometimes expect the characters to do certain things or react in a certain way. We, as readers, automatically assume we know the motivations behind a character's response because these assumptions seem obvious. We do the same when we expect certain reaction by a real person while he is in a very specific environment or social situation. In order to determine what mechanism allows us to "automatically read a character's body language as indicative of his thoughts and feeling," Lisa Zunshine has elaborated an interesting theory based on the results achieved by recent research in cognitive psychology and anthropology, also known as Theory of Mind or the skill to "explain behavior in terms of the underlying states of mind."
A person engages in mind-reading every day automatically and without even realizing it because it is an integral part of "what we are as human beings."
It seems that the cognitive mechanisms that process our thoughts and feelings are constantly checking out the environment for "cues that fit their input conditions."
When we have a character instead of a real person, the way our cognitive mechanisms function does not entirely change, though a background knowledge of the conventions of a particular literary genre may be added to the information we draw on unreflectingly. This means that the various environmental cues that can be the setting, the voice of another character, the structure of the literary text, the imagery, or other literary devices are extremely important to decode the character and his/her thoughts and feelings. A work of fiction is a window on "unreality" but we tend to read and treat the characters as real persons. This reaction is spontaneous but it also very important because the act of reading a character stimulates and develops imagination as well as the ability to understand the intentions of the people in the real world.
As a consequence, my unit is structurally based on this Theory of Mind because my students need improvement in their decoding skills whether when they are reading a text, watching a visual, or interpreting a person. At the same time, I know they already have these cognitive skills to check for environmental cues in order to infer what their friends or family say to them or expect from them. They need to learn they can train their cognitive mechanisms to look at the cues the authors include in the literary text.