The deployment of Theory of Mind in specific contexts: More is not always better
It has been known for some time that attention is often guided by what other people look at and speak about, which can in turn invoke inferences about the beliefs, desires, and goals that drive their forms of reference, a process known as Theory of Mind (ToM; Devine & Hughes, 2013). The link between these forms of reference and Theory of Mind are especially important in new forms of instructional media, where rapid shifts of attention are necessary to effectively elaborate upon and remember rich multimodal streams of information that are driven by an instructor whose communicative goals may be useful to understand. Although attentional cueing is sometimes linked closely with ToM, it remains unclear how automatic and efficient the deployment of ToM is within the context of this new form of multimedia gaze cueing. In this experiment, we assessed the relationship between ToM and learning by testing whether general ToM ability predicts learning and whether contextual ToM tendency predict learning. Not only did we observe a minimal relationship between these two ToM measures, but they were oppositely predictive of learning: general ToM ability was associated with more learning, but contextual ToM tendency negatively predicted learning. We propose that at least part of the heterogeneity in research exploring ToM occurs because general ToM ability should be distinguished from the tendency to engage in strategic ToM inferences, which sometimes can improve understanding but other times can hinder it.