Background. Having a ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) means that one appreciates one's own and others' mental states, and that this appreciation guides interactions with others. It has been proposed that ToM is impaired in schizophrenia and experimental studies show that patients with schizophrenia have problems with ToM, particularly during acute episodes. The model predicts that communicative problems will result from ToM deficits.
Method. We analysed 35 encounters (>80 h of recordings) between mental health professionals and people with chronic schizophrenia (out-patient consultations and cognitive behaviour therapy sessions) using conversation analysis in order to identify how the participants used or failed to use ToM relevant skills in social interaction.
Results. Schizophrenics with ongoing positive and negative symptoms appropriately reported first and second order mental states of others and designed their contributions to conversations on the basis of what they thought their communicative partners knew and intended. Patients recognized that others do not share their delusions and attempted to reconcile others' beliefs with their own but problems arose when they try to warrant their delusional claims. They did not make the justification for their claim understandable for their interlocutor. Nevertheless, they did not fail to recognize that the justification for their claim is unconvincing. However, the ensuing disagreement did not lead them to modify their beliefs.
Conclusions. Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated intact ToM skills in conversational interactions. Psychotic beliefs persisted despite the realization they are not shared but not because patients cannot reflect on them and compare them with what others believe.