Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Perspective-taking in a language game

AbstractMany theories of communication claim that perspective-taking is a fundamental component of the successful design of utterances for a specific audience. We investigated perspective-taking in a constrained communication situation: participants played a word guessing game where each trial required them to communicate a target word without context. In each game pairs of participants took turns giving and receiving clues to guess target words, both receiving feedback after each trial. In Experiment 1, none of the measures of participants’ performance improved over rounds, suggesting either that participants were unable to improve their perspective-taking or that the task was simply too demanding for other reasons. In Experiment 2, we tested whether this lack of improvement was due to overall difficulty rather than inability to take perspective. While the success rate in Experiment 2 did improve over the course of the game, our analyses indicated that the improvement was due to participants discovering a frequency heuristic (using rarer clue words) rather than improved perspective-taking per se. The results of these two experiments show that improving perspective-taking adaptively is very difficult when there is no context to ground either signal choice or interpretation.

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