Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Final Activity and Management Report Summary - IPLI (Inferential processes in literal and figurative lexical interpretation: A comparative (...) study of healthy, autistic and schizophrenic subjects)

Successful linguistic communication normally requires going beyond the message linguistically encoded. For example, in a situation where two people are cooking together, interpreting the request 'Pass me the small measuring cup' might require determining which of various measuring cups is the smallest one from the speaker's perspective, for there might be a small measuring cup right in front of them, but the smallest one might be inside the dishwasher. The main objective of this research project was to investigate the type of inferential processes that took place at the local lexical level, e.g. in interpreting the phrase 'the small measuring cup'.

Our initial results revealed that inferential processes took place early on in processing and did not slow down interpretation. However, the use of eye tracking techniques allowed us to further observe that during the initial stages of processing, people tended to suffer interference from their own private knowledge of the situation. For example, in a similar setting to the scene described above, people would initially consider the small measuring cup inside the dishwasher, even though the speaker didn't know about that particular measuring cup.

These results suggested that not only autistic people, but also healthy individuals might suffer interference from their own perspective when trying to take another person's perspective. Because up until recently this type of 'egocentric bias' would have been expected in an autistic population but not in healthy individuals, the next aim of this research project was to further investigate the nature of this bias and explain its possible sources.

The results of the latest experiments suggested that this type of egocentric biases might have to do with memory processes instead of resulting from a failure of our 'theory of mind' or our ability to take other people's perspectives by inferring their beliefs and intentions.

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