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Why are listeners sometimes (but not always) egocentric?: Making inferences about using others’ perspective in referential communication

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Article numbere0240521
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>26/10/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>PLoS ONE
Issue number10
Number of pages19
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to understand others’ mental states, and that these mental states can differ from our own. Although healthy adults have little trouble passing conceptual tests of ToM (e.g., the false belief task [1]), they do not always succeed in using ToM [2,3]. In order to be successful in referential communication, listeners need to correctly infer the way in which a speaker’s perspective constrains reference and inhibit their own perspective accordingly. However, listeners may require prompts to take these effortful inferential steps. The current study investigated the possibility of embedding prompts in the instructions for listeners to make inference about using a speaker’s perspective. Experiment 1 showed that provision of a clear introductory example of the full chain of inferences resulted in large improvement in performance. Residual egocentric errors suggested that the improvement was not simply due to superior comprehension of the instructions. Experiment 2 further dissociated the effect by placing selective emphasis on making inference about inhibiting listeners’ own perspective versus using the speaker’s perspective. Results showed that only the latter had a significant effect on successful performance. The current findings clearly demonstrated that listeners do not readily make inferences about using speakers’ perspectives, but can do so when prompted.