Cognitive modeling of individual variation in reference production and comprehension

Hendriks, P., 7-Apr-2016, In : Frontiers in Psychology. 7, 506, 17 p., 506.

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A challenge for most theoretical and computational accounts of linguistic reference is the observation that language users vary considerably in their referential choices. Part of the variation observed among and within language users and across tasks may be explained from variation in the cognitive resources available to speakers and listeners. This paper presents a computational model of reference production and comprehension developed within the cognitive architecture ACT-R. Through simulations with this ACT-R model, it is investigated how cognitive constraints interact with linguistic constraints and features of the linguistic discourse in speakers’ production and listeners’ comprehension of referring expressions in specific tasks, and how this interaction may give rise to variation in referential choice. The ACT-R model of reference explains and predicts variation among language users in their referential choices as a result of individual and task-related differences in processing speed and working memory capacity. Because of limitations in their cognitive capacities, speakers sometimes underspecify or overspecify their referring expressions, and listeners sometimes choose incorrect referents or are overly liberal in their interpretation of referring expressions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number506
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number506
Publication statusPublished - 7-Apr-2016


  • reference comprehension, ACT-R, cognitive modeling, perspective taking, processing speed, working memory, reference production, REFERRING EXPRESSIONS, SENTENCE COMPREHENSION, PRONOUN INTERPRETATION, DEFINITE DESCRIPTIONS, PERSPECTIVE-TAKING, WORKING-MEMORY, DISCOURSE, GENERATION, CHILDREN, LANGUAGE

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