Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

Adjustment of speaker’s referential expressions to an addressee’s likely knowledge and link with theory of mind abilities

Achim, Amélie M. ; Fossard, Marion ; Couture, Sophie ; Achim, André

In: Frontiers in Psychology, 2015, vol. 6, no. 823, p. 1-11

To communicate cooperatively, speakers must determine what constitutes the common ground with their addressee and adapt their referential choices accordingly. Assessing another person’s knowledge requires a social cognition ability termed theory of mind (ToM). This study relies on a novel referential communication task requiring probabilistic inferences of the knowledge already held by an... More

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    Summary
    To communicate cooperatively, speakers must determine what constitutes the common ground with their addressee and adapt their referential choices accordingly. Assessing another person’s knowledge requires a social cognition ability termed theory of mind (ToM). This study relies on a novel referential communication task requiring probabilistic inferences of the knowledge already held by an addressee prior to the study. Forty participants were asked to present 10 movie characters and the addressee, who had the same characters in a random order, was asked to place them in order. ToM and other aspects of social cognition were also assessed. Participants used more information when presenting likely unknown than likely known movie characters. They particularly increased their use of physical descriptors, which most often accompanied movie-related information. Interestingly, a significant relationship emerged between our ToM test and the increased amount of information given for the likely unknown characters. These results suggest that speakers use ToM to infer their addressee’s likely knowledge and accordingly adapt their referential expressions.