Shades of confusion: Lexical uncertainty modulates ad hoc coordination in an interactive communication task

Sonia K. Murthy, Thomas L. Griffiths, Robert D. Hawkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


There is substantial variability in the expectations that communication partners bring into interactions, creating the potential for misunderstandings. To directly probe these gaps and our ability to overcome them, we propose a communication task based on color-concept associations. In Experiment 1, we establish several key properties of the mental representations of these expectations, or lexical priors, based on recent probabilistic theories. Associations are more variable for abstract concepts, variability is represented as uncertainty within each individual, and uncertainty enables accurate predictions about whether others are likely to share the same association. In Experiment 2, we then examine the downstream consequences of these representations for communication. Accuracy is initially low when communicating about concepts with more variable associations, but rapidly increases as participants form ad hoc conventions. Together, our findings suggest that people cope with variability by maintaining well-calibrated uncertainty about their partner and appropriately adaptable representations of their own.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105152
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Communication
  • Concepts
  • Social representations
  • Word-color associations


Dive into the research topics of 'Shades of confusion: Lexical uncertainty modulates ad hoc coordination in an interactive communication task'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this