The Role of Working Memory in the Processing of Scalar Implicatures of Patients With Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

A number of studies have demonstrated pragmatic language difficulties in people with Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders. However, research about how people with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders understand scalar implicatures is surprisingly rare, since SIs have generated much of the most recent literature. Scalar implicatures are pragmatic inferences, based on linguistic expressions like some, must, or, which are part of a scale of informativeness. Logically, the less informative expressions imply the more informative ones, but pragmatically people usually infer that the presence of a less informative term implies that the more informative term was not applicable. In one of the few existing studies with people with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, Wampers et al. observed that in general, people with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders were less likely to derive SIs than controls. The current study has three main aims. First, we want to replicate the original finding with the scalar terms some-all. Second, we want to investigate how these patients deal with different scalar terms, that is, we want to investigate if scalar diversity is also observed in this clinical group. Third, we investigate the role of working memory, often seen as another important mechanism to enable inferring SIs. Twenty-one individuals with a psychotic disorder and 21 matched controls answered 54 under-informative statements, in which seven different pairs of scalar terms were used. In addition, working memory capacity was measured. Patients with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders did not make more logical interpretations when processing quantifiers, disconfirming Wampers et al.. However, certain scalar scales elicited more pragmatic interpretations than others, which is in line with the scalar diversity hypothesis. Additionally, we observed only partial evidence for the role of working memory. Only for the scalar scale and-or, a significant effect of working memory was observed. The implications of these results for patients with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders are discussed, but also the role of working memory for pragmatic inferences, as well as the place of SIs in experimental pragmatics.

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