The general aim of this research project is to determine the role that attribution of mental states (e.g. intention, belief, knowledge) to others - also called theory of mind (ToM) or mindreading – plays in meaning construction with a multidisciplinary approach. Theory of mind is the ability to form representations of other people’s mental states and to use these representations to understand, predict and judge their statements and behaviours (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985; Premack & Woodruff, 1978). Study of this ability has become a major focus for cognitive sciences in the last twenty years, giving a growing body of evidence and arguments tending to establish that this ability is a fundamental feature of human cognition. While loads of researches (particularly in pathology and in development; children, for example, develop this ability early, at the same time as full acquisition of language structures) give support to a relationship between theory of mind and language, the role of this cognitive ability in meaning construction is still under debate. Indeed, some models give a prominent place to the attribution of mental states such as intention, belief and knowledge in meaning construction (Grice, 1975; Clark, 1996) while other models give it a secondary role (Pickering & Garrod, 2004; 2006). Dominant theories in pragmatics assume that the expression and recognition of intentions is an essential feature of human communication (Grice, 1957) implying that linguistic code is not sufficient to interpret meaning.
Literature review shows that several important questions remain: Does only theory of mind constrain meaning construction? Do speakers take the perspective of the listener to explain or understand meaning? According to McNeill (2001, p. 23), “the organization of discourse is inseparable from gesture and prosody. […] They are different sides of a single mental communicative process”. As a consequence, if the attribution of mental states plays a role in meaning construction is it conveyed by prosody and/or gestures? Does prosody convey information about the speaker’s intention, belief or knowledge? Are there prosodic markers of the attribution of mental states? Do gestures convey information about the speaker’s intention, belief or knowledge? Are there gestural markers of the attribution of mental states? How much are these types of information retrieved by the listener?
Conversation being the fundamental site for language use, a major challenge is now to answer these questions in the context of social interaction (instead of studying laboratory speech, produced by single individuals). Thus, we propose in this research project to determine, in French, for the first time, if and how theory of mind constrains meaning construction in on-line conversation between two partners assessing reference use, prosody and gesture. More specifically, the aims are to determine (1) how intonational contours may convey attribution of mental states to others during meaning construction; (2) how gestures may convey attribution of mental states to others during meaning construction; (3) if ToM plays a crucial role in meaning construction; (4) if speaker and listener adopt an egocentric perspective in meaning construction during communication.
Both production and comprehension sides will be assessed in individuals with schizophrenia and/or healthy individuals. Indeed, the study of a population suffering from a ToM impairment is particularly relevant to investigate such role of the attribution of mental states in meaning construction. Schizophrenia is a population of choice to study the role of ToM in meaning construction because impairments in the attribution of mental states to others are prominent in the expression of schizophrenia. As a consequence, testing this population by comparison to healthy participants and in different conditions may allow to determine precisely if and how ToM constrains meaning construction.
Madame Maud CHAMPAGNE LAVAU (CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE PROVENCE ET CORSE) – maud.champagne-Lavau@lpl-aix.fr
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
CNRS DR12 / LPL CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE PROVENCE ET CORSE
CNRS/Institut Nicod/UMR 8129 CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE ILE-DE-FRANCE SECTEUR PARIS B
Help of the ANR 299,835 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2011 - 36 Months