[PS-3.86] Through the eyes of a teenager: Real-time Theory of Mind inferences in language comprehension

Symeonidou, I. 1 , Ferguson, H. J. 2 , Dumontheil, I. 3 , Chow, W. Y. 1 & Breheny, R. 1

1 Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London WC1N 1PF, UK
2 School of Psychology, Keynes College, University of Kent, Kent, UK
3 Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK

Recent findings suggest that the online use of Theory of Mind (ToM) shows a prolonged development through late childhood and adolescence. In order to investigate the role of ToM in language comprehension and its developmental trajectory, we adopted a visual world paradigm by Ferguson and Breheny (2011) to examine how quickly older children (9-13) and adolescents (14-18.5) can use knowledge about a character's preferences; (e.g. Helen dislikes vegetables) and desires (e.g., she wishes to keep this preference secret/open) to make ToM inferences and predict that character?s subsequent behaviour during discourse in comparison to adults (25-36). The target sentence described an action performed by the character consistent with his/her preferences (e.g. When Helen goes to dinner parties she makes a show of eating vegetables/meat). All three groups of participants showed anticipatory eye-movements towards the target picture (vegetables/meat) upon hearing the verb (eat), demonstrating successful use of ToM during comprehension across all age groups. However, only the adults showed anticipation at an earlier time window, suggesting that older children and adolescents may not be able to use information about others? mental states for language comprehension as quickly as adults.