When people interpret language, they can reduce the ambiguity of linguistic expressions by using information about perspective: the speaker’s, their own, or a shared perspective. In order to investigate the mental processes that underlie such perspective taking, we tracked people’s eye movements while they were following instructions to manipulate objects. The eye fixation data in two experiments demonstrate that people do not restrict the search for referents to mutually known objects. Eye movements indicated that addressees considered objects as potential referents even when the speaker could not see those objects, requiring addressees to use mutual knowledge to correct their interpretation. Thus, people occasionally use an egocentric heuristic when they comprehend. We argue that this egocentric heuristic is successful in reducing ambiguity, though it could lead to a systematic error.
Keysar, B., Barr, D. J., Balin, J. A., & Brauner, J. S. (2000). Taking perspective in conversation: The role of mutual knowledge in comprehension. Psychological Science, 11(1), 32-38.