Louisa Kulke, Marieke Wübker and Hannes Rakoczy

Is implicit Theory of Mind real but hard to detect? Testing adults with different stimulus materials.

Royal Society Open Science

Recently, Theory of Mind (ToM) research has been revolutionized by new methods. Eye-tracking studies measuring subjects' looking times or anticipatory looking have suggested that implicit and automatic forms of ToM develop much earlier in ontogeny than traditionally assumed and continue to operate outside of subjects’ awareness throughout the lifespan. However, the reliability of these implicit methods has recently been put into question by an increasing number of non-replications. What remains unclear from these accumulating non-replication findings, though, is whether they present true negatives (there is no robust phenomenon of automatic ToM) or false ones (automatic ToM is real but difficult to tap). In order to address these questions, the current study implemented conceptual replications of influential anticipatory looking ToM tasks with a new variation in the stimuli. In two separate preregistered studies, we used increasingly realistic stimuli and controlled for potential confounds. Even with these more realistic stimuli, previous results could not be replicated. Rather, the anticipatory looking pattern found here remained largely compatible with more parsimonious explanations. In conclusion, the reality and robustness of automatic ToM remains controversial.