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Recognition of a Communicator’s Intent in Indirect Communication

Does the recognition of a communicator’s intent in indirect communication depend on cultural values? A comparison of Chinese and German children in a behavioural act-out task.

The comprehension of intentions conveyed in indirect communication is based on asking “Why would s/he say or do XY in this situation?” The question now is: Why do we ask why?

One way to get to the ontogenetic roots of understanding cooperation in communication is to compare different cultures. For instance, parents living in autonomy-supporting (individualistic) cultures often establish face-to-face-contact when communicating with their infant, which supports children’s emotional and intentional (self-)awareness (Gergeley & Watson, 1996). But do such cultural differences effect the recognition of intentions in communication (seen as a form of reasoning about mental states and intentions)? Do children in individualistic cultures detect relevance implicatures more readily? Or would the appreciation of cooperation and inter-dependency in relation-supporting (collectivistic) cultures increase the interpretation of another person’s (verbal) behavior in cooperative terms, which in turn may result in making more inferences about the other person’s social goal?

In order to test whether social goals in communication are more readily inferred by children in individualistic or collectivistic cultures, we are going to adapt the paradigm by Schulze, Grassmann, & Tomasello (2013) and test it with 3.6-year-old toddlers and 5.6-year-old pre-schoolers in three cultural groups, namely, German children and German-Chinese children living in Germany, and Chinese children living in China. We will compare the children’s comprehension of direct and indirect communicative acts (measured online and in an object choice task) within and between groups. Additionally, we will collect data on the children’s cultural values, their Theory-of-Mind abilities, and their language abilities.

Dr. Cornelia Schulze
Research Associate
Prof. Dr. Henrik Saalbach
Head of Department