How do I remember that I know you know that I know?

Psychol Sci. 2011 Dec;22(12):1574-82. doi: 10.1177/0956797611418245. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


Communication is aided greatly when speakers and listeners take advantage of mutually shared knowledge (i.e., common ground). How such information is represented in memory is not well known. Using a neuropsychological-psycholinguistic approach to real-time language understanding, we investigated the ability to form and use common ground during conversation in memory-impaired participants with hippocampal amnesia. Analyses of amnesics' eye fixations as they interpreted their partner's utterances about a set of objects demonstrated successful use of common ground when the amnesics had immediate access to common-ground information, but dramatic failures when they did not. These findings indicate a clear role for declarative memory in maintenance of common-ground representations. Even when amnesics were successful, however, the eye movement record revealed subtle deficits in resolving potential ambiguity among competing intended referents; this finding suggests that declarative memory may be critical to more basic aspects of the on-line resolution of linguistic ambiguity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Communication*
  • Eye Movements*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged