2013 Fieldwork Reports

Adrienne Lynett (Puebla, Mexico)

“You Know that You Don’t Behave Well”

A Conversation Analysis Approach to Theory of Mind in Schizophrenia Patients

Adrienne Lynette (UCLA)  |  Steven López (UCLA)


Much of the recent literature on social cognition in schizophrenia has found deficits in patients’ theory of mind — the ability to understand and properly attribute the intentions and beliefs of others. Experimental studies have measured theory of mind in individuals with schizophrenia with the Hinting Task, which tests for recognition of sarcasm and insinuation, and the False Belief Task, which tests for the ability to discern the beliefs of others (the latter used frequently with children), and others. Analysis of these tasks has found that schizophrenia has a deleterious effect on Theory of Mind — patients tend to have difficulties in correctly interpreting the non-literal utterances featured in the Hinting Task. Some authors have investigated patients’ theory of mind in non-experimental settings, such as patient-clinician interactions (McCabe, Leudar & Healey, 2005). They reported that these patients’ theory of mind was not impaired; rather, that their effective navigation of these interactions — which requires understanding of others’ intentions, beliefs and knowledge — suggest that their theory of mind was intact. This paper will investigate theory of mind in several schizophrenia patients in conversations with family members, using a conversation-analytic approach. Specific attention will be paid to certain conversational features that require theory of mind, such as other-initiated repair, reported speech, laughter, and metacognition. Instances of these conversational phenomena in patients’ interactions with family members reveal that these patients do in fact have a theory of mind and are able to demonstrate it in everyday interactions.