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Eye movements reveal the time-course of anticipating behavior based on complex, conflicting desires

Ferguson, Heather J., Breheny, Richard (2011) Eye movements reveal the time-course of anticipating behavior based on complex, conflicting desires. Cognition, 119 (2). pp. 179-196. ISSN 0010-0277. (doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2011.01.005) (KAR id:26193)


The time-course of representing others’ perspectives is inconclusive across the currently available models of ToM processing. We report two visual-world studies investigating how knowledge about a character’s basic preferences (e.g. Tom’s favourite colour is pink) and higher-order desires (his wish to keep this preference secret) compete to influence online expectations about subsequent behaviour. Participants’ eye movements around a visual scene were tracked while they listened to auditory narratives. While clear differences in anticipatory visual biases emerged between conditions in Experiment 1, post-hoc analyses testing the strength of the relevant biases suggested a discrepancy in the time-course of predicting appropriate referents within the different contexts. Specifically, predictions to the target emerged very early when there was no conflict between the character’s basic preferences and higher-order desires, but appeared to be relatively delayed when comprehenders were provided with conflicting information about that character’s desire to keep a secret. However, a second experiment demonstrated that this apparent ‘cognitive cost’ in inferring behaviour based on higher-order desires was in fact driven by low-level features between the context sentence and visual scene. Taken together, these results suggest

that healthy adults are able to make complex higher-order ToM inferences without the need to call on costly cognitive processes. Results are discussed relative to previous accounts of ToM and language processing.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.01.005
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2011 14:01 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 10:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Ferguson, Heather J..

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