External signs of internal representations : developments in processing utterances and beliefs
Three factors in Referential Communication are worthy of special consideration: the utterance, the speaker's internal representation, and reality. These relationships form the 'referential triangle' of communication. This thesis explores how children and adults evaluate utterances when all three elements of the referential triangle need to be considered. The main aim was to investigate why utterances might be more difficult to understand than other externalisations of internal representations, such as pictorial representations of belief. Chapter 2 investigated the usefulness of presenting an internal representation as a cartoon thought bubble. Children with autism performed significantly better on false belief tasks when they saw the protagonist's belief encapsulated in a thought bubble, compared to a false belief task without a bubble. This suggests that thought bubbles can be easily understood as representations of mental states. Given this facilitation, the use of thought bubbles was extended to the referential communication paradigm in Chapter 3. Presenting speech and thought bubbles alongside the array allowed the referential triangle to be depicted as separate, substantive elements. Children aged 6-10 years tended to overlook the pragmatic adequacy of unambiguous utterances when they could see the speaker's meaning depicted in a thought bubble. In Chapter 4, the speaker's meaning was not shown directly, but had to be inferred from the story context. Under these circumstances, children and adults tended to focus more on the relationship between the utterance and the array when deciding whether a message was adequate or not. Chapter 5 explored whether adults inappropriately overextended their focus on the utterance-array relationship. In some cases, adults seemed to be influenced by their own knowledge of utterance-array link when making evaluations from the perspective of a naive listener protagonist. The general pattern of results suggests that listeners are particularly attuned to discrepancies between elements in the referential triangle. It is possible that utterances as externalisations of internal representations are difficult to understand because children have to learn when it is appropriate to accord the discrepancy prominence versus situations when isomorphism between other elements in the triangle might be more important for utterance evaluation.