Paula Rubio-Fernandez

Senior Researcher

Academic Interests

I work in experimental pragmatics, which employs methods from psycholinguistics to investigate theoretical pragmatics. My research centers around four areas: lexical pragmatics (or how we modulate word meanings in context), figurative language interpretation (particularly metaphor), referential communication (how people produce and interpret referential expressions) and Theory of Mind (more specifically, false-belief reasoning).

In my studies I have investigated the pragmatic abilities of both children and adults using a variety of behavioural methods (e.g., language production and reading times) as well as eye-tracking (continuous recording of eye movements during language processing).

Higher education and employment history

  • 2016-2019 Visiting Researcher at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT
  • 2014 - 2022 Researcher at the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN) and the Philosophy Department (IFIKK) of the University of Oslo
  • 2014 - 2017 Honorary Research Associate at the Linguistics Department in UCL
  • 2011-2014 Post-doctoral researcher in project funded by the Leverhulme Trust at the Linguistics Department in University College London (UCL)
  • 2009-2011 Research Fellow at the Linguistics Department in UCL
  • 2006-2009 Research Fellow at the Psychology Department in Princeton University
  • 2005-2006 Research Fellow at the Linguistics Department in UCL
  • 2005 PhD from Cambridge University under the supervision of Richard Breheny
  • 2001 MPhil in English and Applied Linguistics from Cambridge University
  • 1999 MA in Theoretical Linguistics from Reading University (UK)
  • 1999 BA in Spanish Philology from the Universidad de Oviedo (Spain)

Grants and Fellowships

  • Researcher Project Grant from the Research Council of Norway (Project fully funded by the FRIPRO program) – 2018-2023
  • Young Research Talent Grant from the Research Council of Norway (Project fully funded by the FRIHUMSAM program) – 2014-2018
  • Named Research Associate in Research Project Grant from the Leverhulme Trust with Professor Robyn Carston (UCL; PI) and Professor Catherine Wearing (Wellesley College) – 2011-2014
  • Euro-XPrag Collaborative Grant with Susanne Grassmann (Groningen) and Bart Geurts (Nijmegen), European Science Foundation (ESF) – 2010-2012
  • Euro-XPrag Collaborative Grant with Steve Butterfill (Warwick) and Daniel Richardson (UCL), European Science Foundation (ESF) – 2010-2012
  • International Training and Networking Opportunities for Early-Career Researchers Grant, UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – 2010-2012
  • Euro-XPrag Collaborative Grant with Sam Glucksberg (Princeton), European Science Foundation (ESF) – 2009-2011
  • Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship – 2006-2011
  • British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship – 2005-2008
  • UK Arts and Humanities Research Board Postgraduate Grant (AHRB) – 2000-2004


I am currently collaborating or have collaborated with the following researchers:

  • Helena Aparicio (MIT)
  • Robyn Carston (UCL)
  • Chris Cummins (University of Edinburgh)
  • Heather Ferguson (University of Kent)
  • Bart Geurts (University of Nijmegen)
  • Edward Gibson (MIT)
  • Sam Glucksberg (Princeton University)
  • Susanne Grassmann (University of Zürich)
  • Julian Jara-Ettinger (Yale University)
  • Simon Kirby (University of Edinburgh)
  • Amy Lieberman (Boston University)
  • Frank Mollica (University of Rochester)
  • Hannah Rohde (University of Edinburgh)
  • Pawan Sinha (MIT)
  • Ye Tian (Université Paris Diderot)
  • Catherine Wearing (Wellesley College)
Tags: Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Theory of Mind

Selected publications

Rohde, H., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2022, in press). Color interpretation is guided by informativity expectations, not by world knowledge about colors. Journal of Memory and Language.

Shukla, V., Long, M., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2022, in press). Children’s acquisition of discourse markers in English, Hindi, Mandinka and Spanish: Effects of optionality, grammaticalization and narrative elicitation. Glossa Psycholinguistics.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Shukla, V., Bhatia, V., Ben-Ami, S., & Sinha, P. (2022). Head turning is an effective cue for gaze following: Evidence from newly sighted individuals, school children and adults. Neuropsychologia.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Long, M., Shukla, V., Bhatia, V., & Sinha, P. (2022). Visual perspective taking is not automatic in a simplified Dot task: Evidence from newly sighted children, primary school children and adults. Neuropsychologia.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Wienholz, A., Ballard, C., Kirby, S., & Lieberman, A. (2022). Adjective position and referential efficiency in American Sign Language: Effects of adjective semantics, sign type and age of sign exposure. Journal of Memory and Language.

Jara-Ettinger, J., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2021). Quantitative mental-state attributions in language understanding. Science Advances.

Jara-Ettinger, J., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2021). The social basis of referential communication: Speakers construct reference based on listeners’ expected visual search. Psychological Review.

Shukla, V., Long, M., Bhatia, V. & Rubio-Fernandez (2021). Some sentences prime pragmatic reasoning in the verification and evaluation of comparisons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition [Online view].

Long, M., Moore, I., Mollica, F., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2021). Contrast perception as a visual heuristic in the formulation of referential expressions. Cognition [Online view].

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2021). Color discriminability makes over-specification efficient: Theoretical analysis and empirical evidence. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8, 147.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Southgate, V. & Kiraly, I. (2021). Pragmatics for infants: Commentary on Wenzel et al. (2020). Royal Society Open Science, 8(6), 210247. Invited commentary.

Long, M., Shukla, V., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2021). The development of simile comprehension: From comparison to scalar implicature. Child Development, 92(4), 1439-1457

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Mollica, F., & Jara-Ettinger, J. (2021). Speakers and listeners exploit word order for communicative efficiency: A cross-linguistic investigation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(3), 583–594.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., & Jara-Ettinger, J. (2020). Incrementality and efficiency shape pragmatics across languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(24), 13399-13404.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2020). Pragmatic markers: The missing link between language and Theory of Mind. Synthese [Online view]. Invited contribution to the Special Issue The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition.

Long, M., Rohde, H., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2020). The pressure to communicate efficiently continues to shape language use later in life. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-13.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2019). Overinformative speakers are cooperative: Revisiting the Gricean Maxim of Quantity. Cognitive Science43(11), e12797.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Mollica, F., Oraa Ali, M., & Gibson, E. (2019). How do you know that? Automatic belief inferences in passing conversation. Cognition, 193, 104011.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2019). Associative and inferential processes in false-belief tasks: An investigation of the unexpected-contents paradigm. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 177, 297-312.

Rubio-Fernandez,P. (2019). Publication standards in infancy research: Three ways to make violation-of-expectation studies more reliable. Infant Behavior and Development, 54, 177-188. Contribution to the special issue Replication, collaboration and best practices in infancy research.

Rubio-Fernandez,P. (2018). Trying to discredit the Duplo task with a partial replication: Reply to Paulus & Kammermeier (2018). Cognitive Development, 48, 286-288

Rubio-Fernandez,P. (2018). What do failed (and successful) replications with the Duplo task reveal? Cognitive Development, 48, 316-320.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Jara-Ettinger, J. & Gibson, E. (2017). Can processing demands explain toddlers' performance in false-belief tasks? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201701286. Response to Setoh et al. (2016, PNAS).

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2017). The Director’s task: A test of Theory-of-Mind use or selective attention? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 24(4), 1121-1128.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2017). Why are bilinguals better than monolinguals at false-belief tasks? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 24(3), 987-998.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Geurts, B. & Cummins, C. (2017). Is an apple like a fruit? A study on comparison and categorisation statements. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 8(2), 367-390.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2017). Can we forget what we know in a false-belief task? An investigation of the true-belief default. Cognitive Science, 41(1), 218-241.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2016). How redundant are redundant colour adjectives? An efficiency-based analysis of color overspecification. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(153), 1-15. Special issue on Models of Reference.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Cummins, C. & Tian, Y. (2016). Are single and extended metaphors processed differently? A test of two Relevance-Theoretic accounts. Journal of Pragmatics, 94, 15-28.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. & Geurts, B. (2016). Don't mention the marble! The role of attentional processes in false-belief tasks. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 7(4), 835-850.

Rubio-Fernández, P. & Grassmann, S. (2016). Metaphors as second labels: Difficult for preschool children? Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 45(4), 931-944.

Geurts, B. & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2015). Pragmatics and processing. Ratio, 28(4), 446-469.

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Wearing, C. & Carston, R. (2015). Metaphor and hyperbole: Testing the continuity hypothesis. Metaphor & Symbol, 30, 24-40.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2013). Perspective tracking in progress: Do not disturb. Cognition, 129, 264-272

Rubio-Fernandez, P. and Geurts, B. (2013). How to pass the false-belief task before your 4th birthday. Psychological Science, 24, 27-33

Rubio-Fernandez, P. and Glucksberg, S. (2013). False-belief reasoning and bilingualism. Invited contribution to the McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science and Technology 2013, pp.134-136. McGraw-Hill Inc, New York.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. and Glucksberg, S. (2012). Reasoning about other people’s beliefs: Bilinguals have an advantage.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 38, 211–217.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2012). Associative and inferential processes in pragmatic enrichment: The case of emergent properties. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 723-745.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2008). Concept narrowing: The role of context-independent information in concepts. Journal of Semantics, 25, 381-409.

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2008). On the automaticity of egocentricity: A review of the Egocentric Anchoring and Adjustment model of perspective taking. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, 20, 247-274.

Khemlani, S., Leslie, S-J, Glucksberg, S. and Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2007). Do ducks lay eggs? How people interpret generic assertions. Proceedings of the 2007 Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci07).

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (2007). Suppression in metaphor interpretation: Differences between meaning selection and meaning construction. Journal of Semantics, 24, 345-371.

Rubio- Fernandez, P., Breheny, R. & Lee, M.W. (2003). Context-independent information in concepts: An investigation of the notion of ‘core features’. Proceedings of the 2003 Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci03).

Rubio- Fernandez, P. (2001). Inhibition of core features in metaphor interpretation. Working Papers in English and Applied Linguistics, 8,73-100. University of Cambridge.

Under review

Long, M., Rohde, H., & Rubio-Fernandez, P. (revised and resubmitted). Attentional control predicts pronominalization irrespective of competing referents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, memory and cognition. Pre-print DOI: 10.31234/

Rubio-Fernandez, P. (under review). Demonstratives can train spatial perspective taking: The case of Spanish. Pre-print DOI: 10.31234/

Long, M., MacPherson, S., Rubio-Fernandez, P. (under review). Age-related differences in how speakers relay news in face- threatening contexts. Pre-print DOI: 10.31234/

Rubio-Fernandez, P., Aparicio, H., Shukla, V., & Jara-Ettinger, J. (under review). Contrastive inferences are sensitive to informativity expectations, visual salience and adjective semantics. Pre-print DOI: 10.31234/

Published May 19, 2014 2:10 PM - Last modified July 15, 2022 9:40 PM