Communication Without the Cooperative Principle: A Signaling Experiment

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Hannah Rubin, Justin Bruner, Cailin O'Connor, Simon Huttegger
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According to Grice's `Cooperative Principle', human communicators are involved in a cooperative endeavor. The speaker attempts to make herself understood and the listener, in turn, assumes that the speaker is trying to maximize the ease and effectiveness of communication. While pragmatists recognize that people do not always behave in such a way, the Cooperative Principle is generally assumed to hold. However, it is often the case that the interests of speakers and listeners diverge, at least to some degree. Communication can arise in such situations when the cost of signaling is high enough that it aligns the interests of speaker and listener, but what happens when the cost of signaling is not sufficient to align the interests of those communicating? In these cases the theoretical prediction is that they will reach a partially informative system of communication. Using methods from experimental economics, we test whether theoretical predictions are borne out. We find that subjects do learn to communicate without the cooperative principle.

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