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Nonliteral language understanding has always been recognized as problematic in autistic individuals. We ran a study on 26 autistic children (mean age = 7.3 years) and 2 comparison groups of typically developing children, 1 matched for chronological age, and 1 of younger peers (mean age = 6.11 years) matched for linguistic abilities, aiming at assessing their understanding of ironic criticisms and compliments, and identifying the cognitive and linguistic factors that may underpin this ability. Autistic participants lagged behind the comparison groups in the comprehension of both types of irony, and their performance was related to mindreading and linguistic abilities. Significant correlations were found between first-order Theory of Mind (ToM) and both types of irony, between second-order ToM and ironic compliments, and between linguistic abilities and ironic criticisms. The autistic group displayed an interesting, and previously unattested in the literature, bimodal distribution: the great majority of them (n = 18) displayed a very poor performance in irony understanding, whereas some (n = 6) were at ceiling. We discuss these results in terms of two different profiles of autistic children.
Several studies investigated preschoolers’ ability to compute scalar and ad-hoc implicatures, but only one compared children's performance with both kinds of implicature with the same task, a picture selection task. In Experiment 1 (N = 58, age: 4;2-6;0), we first show that the truth value judgment task, traditionally employed to investigate children's pragmatic ability, prompts a rate of pragmatic responses comparable to the picture selection task. In Experiment 2 (N = 141, age: 3;8-9;2) we used the picture selection task to compare scalar and ad-hoc implicatures and linked the ability to derive these implicatures to some cognitive and linguistic measures. We found that four- and five-year-olds children performed better on ad-hoc than on scalar implicatures. Furthermore, we found that morphosyntactic competence was associated with success in both kinds of implicatures, while performance on mental state reasoning was positively associated with success on scalar but not ad-hoc implicatures.
We investigated production of lexical stress in children with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD), all monolingual Italian speakers. The mean age of the 16 autistic children was 5.73 years and the mean age of the 16 typically developing children was 4.65 years. Picture-naming targets were five trisyllabic words that began with a weak–strong pattern of lexical stress across the initial two syllables (WS: matita) and five trisyllabic words beginning with a strong–weak pattern (SW: gomito). Acoustic measures of the duration, fundamental frequency, and intensity of the first two vowels for correct word productions were used to calculate a normalised Pairwise Variability Index (PVI) for WS and SW words. Results of acoustic analyses indicated no statistically significant group differences in PVIs. Results should be interpreted in line with the exploratory nature of this study. We hope this study will encourage additional cross-linguistic studies of prosody in children's speech production.
Infants begin to understand some of the meanings of the adjective good at around thirteen months, but it is not clear when they start to map it to concepts in the moral domain. We investigated infants’ and toddlers’ knowledge of good in the domains of help and fairness. Participants at 20 and 30 months were shown computer animations involving helpful and hindering agents, or agents who performed fair or unfair distributions, and were asked to “pick the good one”. Toddlers at 30 months took good as referring to helping, but not to the fair agents. However, when asked “to pick one”, they choose the fair distributor. These findings suggest that by 30 months toddlers have started to map good to some socio-moral features, such as a helping disposition, but not to fairness in distributive actions.
We have found that moral considerations interact with belief ascription in determining intentionality judgment. We attribute this finding to a differential availability of plausible counterfactual alternatives that undo the negative side-effect of an action. We conclude that Knobe's thesis does not account for processes by which counterfactuals are generated and how these processes affect moral evaluations.
We investigated whether access to a sign language affects the development of pragmatic competence in three groups of deaf children aged 6 to 11 years: native signers from deaf families receiving bimodal/bilingual instruction, native signers from deaf families receiving oralist instruction and late signers from hearing families receiving oralist instruction. The performance of these children was compared to a group of hearing children aged 6 to 7 years on a test designed to assess sensitivity to violations of conversational maxims. Native signers with bimodal/bilingual instruction were as able as the hearing children to detect violations that concern truthfulness (Maxim of Quality) and relevance (Maxim of Relation). On items involving these maxims, they outperformed both the late signers and native signers attending oralist schools. These results dovetail with previous findings on mindreading in deaf children and underscore the role of early conversational experience and instructional setting in the development of pragmatics.
Twenty Italian six-year-olds and 20 eight-year-olds were asked to interpret eight ambiguous and eight clear definite descriptions. All ambiguous descriptions could refer to three drawings, one of which had been described by the subjects immediately before the comprehension task. In half of the trials with ambiguous messages the children's interlocutor was present while the children were describing the drawings; in the other half he was absent. In both conditions subjects showed a preference for the referents they had already described, indicating that they applied egocentrically a comprehension strategy based on the Maxim of Antecedent (Jackson & Jacobs, 1982). Children's failures to differentiate their responses in the two conditions are considered to be due to difficulties in taking account of the given-new distinction for relevant information.
The ability to convey the optimal amount of information during conversation is a fundamental aspect of language use. In this study the relationship between children's failures to produce unambiguous utterances and the mental effort demands of the communication task was investigated. Five-, six-, seven- and nine-year-old children performed a message production task and a finger-tapping task both separately and simultaneously. The decrease in finger-tapping frequency during the simultaneous performance was used as an estimate of effort demands of the message production task. Working memory capacity was assessed by means of a spatial memory test and an object features identification task. Children's intuitions about message adequacy were recorded in two message evaluation tasks. By age six children proved to be able to select the relevant information when they were explicitly asked to do so, indicating that effort demands of the communication task did not exceed their computational resources. However, results suggested that the relative effort requirements of the communication task decrease with increasing age. These findings support a performance theory of communication development in which effort demands are a determinant of children's message adequacy.
Atran's putative module for folk biology is evaluated
with respect to evidence from patients showing category-specific
impairments for living kinds. Existing neuropsychological evidence
provides no support for the primacy of categorization at the generic
species level. We outline reasons for this and emphasize that such
claims should be tested using inductive reasoning tasks.
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