Relevance theory and the double empathy problem in cross-dispositional communication

  • Gemma Williams (Presenter)

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk


A central diagnostic and anecdotal feature of autism is difficulty with social communication. Traditionally, these difficulties are regarded as autistic impairments, related to proposed cognitive and social deficits. From this perspective the onus of failures in mutual understanding is placed within the mind/brains of the autistic individuals involved. However, recent research in the social sciences and critical autism studies is beginning to demonstrate that non-autistic people have challenges in understanding autistic people too, and to reframe the communicative difficulties as a two-way double empathy problem (Milton, 2012).
This talk takes this radical re-framing of pragmatic impairment as an intersubjective problem of mutual understanding as a starting point. From here, it presents an argument from Gemma’s recently completed PhD research, for how relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1986/1995) – a cognitive account of utterance interpretation – might help make sense of what is happening cognitively during these breakdowns in mutual understanding. ‘A cross-dispositional’ model of communication is introduced, and parallels drawn to intercultural communication.
Period13 May 2021
Event titleBAAL Showcase Seminar Series : Health and Science Communication SIG
Event typeConference
LocationUnited KingdomShow on map