Conditional sentences create a blind spot in theory of mind during narrative comprehension

Matthew Haigh, Jean-François Bonnefon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

We identify a blind spot in the early Theory of Mind processing of conditional sentences that describe a protagonist's potential action, and its predictable consequences. We propose that such sentences create expectations through two independent channels. A decision theoretic channel creates an expectation that the action will be taken (viz., not taken) if it has desirable (viz., undesirable) consequences, but a structural channel acts in parallel to create an expectation that the action will be taken, irrespective of desirability. Accordingly, reading should be disrupted when a protagonist avoids an action with desirable consequences, but reading should not be disrupted when a protagonist takes an action with undesirable consequences. This prediction was supported by the eye movements of participants reading systematically varied vignettes. Reading was always disrupted when the protagonist avoided an action with desirable consequences, but disruptions were either delayed (Experiment 1) or recovered from faster (Experiment 2) when the protagonist took an action with undesirable consequences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-201
JournalActa Psychologica
Volume160
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015

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