Exploring the cognitive infrastructure of communication

De Ruiter, J. P., Noordzij, M. L., Newman-Norlund, S., Newman-Norlund, R., Hagoort, P., Levinson, S. C., & Toni, I. (2012). Exploring the cognitive infrastructure of communication. In B. Galantucci, & S. Garrod (Eds.), Experimental Semiotics: Studies on the emergence and evolution of human communication (pp. 51-78). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Human communication is often thought about in terms of transmitted messages in a conventional code like a language. But communication requires a specialized interactive intelligence. Senders have to be able to perform recipient design, while receivers need to be able to do intention recognition, knowing that recipient design has taken place. To study this interactive intelligence in the lab, we developed a new task that taps directly into the underlying abilities to communicate in the absence of a conventional code. We show that subjects are remarkably successful communicators under these conditions, especially when senders get feedback from receivers. Signaling is accomplished by the manner in which an instrumental action is performed, such that instrumentally dysfunctional components of an action are used to convey communicative intentions. The findings have important implications for the nature of the human communicative infrastructure, and the task opens up a line of experimentation on human communication.
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