Mentalizing or submentalizing in a communication task? Evidence from autism and a camera control

Idalmis Santiesteban, Punit Shah, Sarah White, Geoffrey Bird, Cecilia Heyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (SciVal)


In the director task (DT), participants are instructed to move objects within a grid of shelves while ignoring those objects that cannot be seen by a human figure, the "director," located beyond the shelves. It is widely assumed that, since they are explicitly instructed to do, participants use mentalizing in this communicative task; they represent what the director can see, and therefore the DT provides important information about how and when mentalizing is used in adult life. We tested this view against a "submentalizing" hypothesis suggesting that DT performance depends on object-centered spatial coding, without mentalizing. As predicted by the submentalizing account, we found that DT performance was unchanged when the director was replaced by an inanimate object, a camera, and that participants with autism spectrum disorders were unimpaired, relative to matched control participants, in both the director and camera conditions. In combination with recent critical analyses of "implicit mentalizing," these findings support the view that adults use mentalizing sparingly in psychological experiments and in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)844-9
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Space Perception
  • Theory of Mind
  • Visual Perception
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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