Mentalizing or submentalizing in a communication task? Evidence from autism and a camera control
In the director task (DT), participants are instructed to move objects within a grid of shelves while ignoring those objects that cannot be seen by a human figure, the “director,” located beyond the shelves. It is widely assumed that, since they are explicitly instructed to do, participants use mentalizing in this communicative task; they represent what the director can see, and therefore the DT provides important information about how and when mentalizing is used in adult life. We tested this view against a “submentalizing” hypothesis suggesting that DT performance depends on object-centered spatial coding, without mentalizing. As predicted by the submentalizing account, we found that DT performance was unchanged when the director was replaced by an inanimate object, a camera, and that participants with autism spectrum disorders were unimpaired, relative to matched control participants, in both the director and camera conditions. In combination with recent critical analyses of “implicit mentalizing,” these findings support the view that adults use mentalizing sparingly in psychological experiments and in everyday life.
KeywordsPerspective-taking Mentalizing Submentalizing Object-centered spatial coding Director task Autism
The authors thank Iroise Dumontheil for providing helpful feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript. This work was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship [ES/H013504/1] awarded to I.S.
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