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Frontiers In Psychology


A common method for investigating pragmatic processing and its development in children is to have participants make binary judgments of underinformative (UI) statements such as Some elephants are mammals. Rejection of such statements indicates that a (not-all) scalar implicature has been computed. Acceptance of UI statements is typically taken as evidence that the perceiver has not computed an implicature. Under this assumption, the results of binary judgment studies in children and adults suggest that computing an implicature may be cognitively costly. For instance, children under 7 years of age are systematically more likely to accept UI statements compared to adults. This makes sense if children have fewer processing resources than adults. However, Katsos and Bishop (2011) found that young children are able to detect violations of informativeness when given graded rather than binary response options. They propose that children simply have a greater tolerance for pragmatic violations than do adults. The present work examines whether this pragmatic tolerance plays a role in adult binary judgment tasks. We manipulated social attributes of a speaker in an attempt to influence how accepting a perceiver might be of the speaker’s utterances. This manipulation affected acceptability rates for binary judgments (Experiment 1) but not for graded judgments (Experiment 2). These results raise concerns about the widespread use of binary choice tasks for investigating pragmatic processing and undermine the existing evidence suggesting that computing scalar implicatures is costly.


language, pragmatics, inference, pragmatic tolerance, scalar implicature, truth value judgment, social cognition

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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