Chapter

“If… ”: Satisficing Algorithms for Mapping Conditional Statements onto Social Domains

Alejandro López-Rousseau and Timothy Ketelaar

in Heuristics

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199744282
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894727 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199744282.003.0038
“If… ”: Satisficing Algorithms for Mapping Conditional Statements onto Social Domains

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People regularly use conditional statements to communicate promises and threats, advice and warnings, permissions and obligations to other people. Given that all conditionals are formally equivalent—“if P, then Q”— the question is: When confronted with a conditional statement, how do people know whether they are facing a promise, a threat, or something else? In other words, what is the cognitive algorithm for mapping a particular conditional statement onto its corresponding social domain? This paper introduces the pragmatic cues algorithm and the syntactic cue algorithm as partial answers to this question. Two experiments were carried out to test how well these simple satisficing algorithms approximate the performance of the actual cognitive algorithm people use to classify conditional statements into social domains. Conditional statements for promises, threats, advice, warnings, permissions, and obligations were collected from people, and given to both other people and the algorithms for their classification. Their corresponding performances were then compared. Results revealed that even though these algorithms utilized a minimum number of cues and drew only a restricted range of inferences from these cues, they performed well above chance in the task of classifying conditional statements as promises, threats, advice, warnings, permissions, and obligations. Moreover, these simple satisficing algorithms performed comparable to actual people given the same task.

Keywords: heuristics; satisficing; conditional statement

Chapter.  4580 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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