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Is Language Required to Represent Others’ Mental States? Evidence From Beliefs and Other Representations

Samuel, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-7776-7427, Durdevic, K., Legg, E. W. , Lurz, R. & Clayton, N. S. (2019). Is Language Required to Represent Others’ Mental States? Evidence From Beliefs and Other Representations. Cognitive Science, 43(1), article number e12710. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12710


An important part of our Theory of Mind—the ability to reason about other people’s unobservable mental states—is the ability to attribute false beliefs to others. We investigated whether processing these false beliefs, as well as similar but non-mental representations, is reliant on language. Participants watched videos in which a protagonist hides a gift and either takes a photo of it or writes a text about its location before a second person inadvertently moves the present to a different location, thereby rendering the belief and either the photo or text false. At the same time, participants performed either a concurrent verbal interference task (rehearsing strings of digits) or a visual interference task (remembering a visual pattern). Results showed that performance on false belief trials did not decline under verbal interference relative to visual interference. We interpret these findings as further support for the view that language does not form an essential part of the process of reasoning on-line (‘in the moment’) about false beliefs.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Theory of Mind, Verbal Interference, Dual Task, False belief, False photo, False Note
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of Language and mental states_R2_CogSci.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible due to copyright restrictions.


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