Modeling Reference Production as the Probabilistic Combination of Multiple Perspectives

Cognitive Science 42 (S4):974-1008 (2018)
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While speakers have been shown to adapt to the knowledge state of their addressee in choosing referring expressions, they often also show some egocentric tendencies. The current paper aims to provide an explanation for this “mixed” behavior by presenting a model that derives such patterns from the probabilistic combination of both the speaker's and the addressee's perspectives. To test our model, we conducted a language production experiment, in which participants had to refer to objects in a context that also included a visually misleading object whose function was either known to both partners, or known just to the speaker but not the addressee. Modeling results indicate that the experimental findings cannot be explained by assuming that speakers tailor a referring expression solely to their own perspective or to the perspective of their addressee. Instead, accounting for the behavioral pattern requires an approach where both perspectives influence the choice of referring expressions. Nevertheless, in our situation, speakers consider their partner's perspective more than their own.



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