New paper: Fourteen-Month-Old Infants Track the Language Comprehension of Communicative Partners

September 7, 2018

This study found that  

  • 14-month-olds show an N400 effect even when only an observer encounters semantic incongruity (an object mislabeled), themselves not.
  • Infants exhibit similar neural markers when following the linguistic understanding of a social partner as they show when processing word meaning.
  • Infant 'Theory of Mind' goes beyond the attribution of false beliefs about object location as it allows attribution of miscomprehension as well.


Infants employ sophisticated mechanisms to acquire their first language, including some that rely on taking the perspective of adults as speakers or listeners. When do infants first show awareness of what other people understand? We tested 14-month-old infants in two experiments measuring event-related potentials. In Experiment 1, we established that infants produce the N400 effect, a brain signature of semantic violations, in a live object naming paradigm in the presence of an adult observer. In Experiment 2, we induced false beliefs about the labelled objects in the adult observer to test whether infants keep track of the other person’s comprehension. The results revealed that infants reacted to the semantic incongruity heard by the other as if they encountered it themselves: they exhibited an N400-like response, even though labels were congruous from their perspective. This finding demonstrates that infants track the linguistic understanding of social partners.


Forgács, B., Parise, E., Csibra, G., Gergely, G., Jacquey, L., & Gervain, J. (in press). Fourteen-month-old infants track the language comprehension of communicative partnersDevelopmental Science.