Inference and communication in the game of Password

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 23 (NIPS 2010)

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Yang Xu, Charles Kemp


Communication between a speaker and hearer will be most efficient when both parties make accurate inferences about the other. We study inference and communication in a television game called Password, where speakers must convey secret words to hearers by providing one-word clues. Our working hypothesis is that human communication is relatively efficient, and we use game show data to examine three predictions. First, we predict that speakers and hearers are both considerate, and that both take the other’s perspective into account. Second, we predict that speakers and hearers are calibrated, and that both make accurate assumptions about the strategy used by the other. Finally, we predict that speakers and hearers are collaborative, and that they tend to share the cognitive burden of communication equally. We find evidence in support of all three predictions, and demonstrate in addition that efficient communication tends to break down when speakers and hearers are placed under time pressure.