Linguistics colloquium: Noga Balaban

05/04/2016 - 14:00 - 15:30

Noga Balaban
Bar Ilan University

Title: Theory of Mind impairment, presuppositions and Inferences

Abstract: Theory of Mind (TOM) is the cognitive ability that allows individuals to see the world through the eyes of others. This ability is essential for participation in discourse which requires inferencing of speakers’ intentions. Accordingly, individuals with TOM impairment were expected to experience difficulty in considering non truth- conditional meanings.

The participants were 24 right brain damaged participants (aged 40-67). Their TOM ability was evaluated using the aTOMia Battery; a battery composed of 8 types of TOM tasks. Nineteen participants showed TOM impairment (aTOMia) and 5 participants performed as well as a matched control group and showed intact TOM. The performance of the three groups: aTOMic participants, non-aTOMic participants and a control group was tested on two linguistic tasks.

One task tested Comprehension of factive verbs- verbs that trigger the presupposition that the information expressed in the clause they embed is a true fact (I forgot that it rained→it rained). The second tested Comprehendsion of the Contrasting conjunctive “but” which implies a contrast between inferences (The coat is nice but heavy→I don't like it).

Results showed that the TOM-impaired participants were able to distinguish between factive and non-factive verbs and comprehend the factive presupposition. In contrast, they failed to comprehend contrastive conjunction and infer speaker’s meaning when using ‘but’ to convey speakers’ attitude. The participants that showed intact TOM performed well, as control group, on both tasks.

These findings suggest that the two types of non-truth conditional meanings that were tested are of different natures. While lexical information was found to be preserved despite the TOM-impairment, the ability to infer implicated meanings was comprised.