"Are we still talking about the same thing?" MEG reveals perspective-taking in response to pragmatic violations, but not in anticipation


The current study investigates whether mentalizing, or taking the perspective of your interlocutor, plays an essential role throughout a conversation or whether it is mostly used in reaction to misunderstandings. This study is the first to use a brain-imaging method, MEG, to answer this question. In a first phase of the experiment, MEG participants interacted "live" with a confederate who set naming precedents for certain pictures. In a later phase, these precedents were sometimes broken by a speaker who named the same picture in a different way. This could be done by the same speaker, who set the precedent, or by a different speaker. Source analysis of MEG data showed that in the 800 ms before the naming, when the picture was already on the screen, episodic memory and language areas were activated, but no mentalizing areas, suggesting that the speaker's naming intentions were not anticipated by the listener on the basis of shared experiences. Mentalizing areas only became activated after the same speaker had broken a precedent, which we interpret as a reaction to the violation of conversational pragmatics.

Back to Table of Contents