When more is more: Redundant modifiers can facilitate visual search
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Description: According to the Gricean Maxim of Quantity, speakers provide the amount of information listeners require to correctly interpret an utterance, and no more (Grice, 1975). However, speakers do tend to violate the Maxim of Quantity often, especially when the redundant information improves reference precision (Degen et al., 2020). Redundant (non-contrastive) information may facilitate real-world search if it narrows the spatial scope under consideration, or improves target template specificity. The current study investigated whether non-contrastive modifiers that improve reference precision facilitate visual search in real-world scenes. In two visual search experiments, we compared search performance when perceptually-relevant, but non-contrastive modifiers were included in the search instruction. Participants (NExp. 1=48, NExp. 2=48) searched for a unique target object following a search instruction that contained either no modifier, a location modifier (Experiment 1: on the top left, Experiment 2: on the shelf), or a color modifier (the black lamp). In Experiment 1 only, the target was located faster when the verbal instruction included either modifier when compared to the no-modifier condition. The results suggest that violations of the maxim of quantity can facilitate search when the violations include task-relevant information that either augments the target template or constrains the search space, and when at least one modifier provides a highly reliable cue. Consistent with Degen et al., (2020), we conclude that listeners benefit from non-contrastive information that improves reference precision, and engage in rational reference comprehension.
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