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Cogn Sci. 2005 Sep 10;29(5):737-67. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog0000_34.

An experimental study of the emergence of human communication systems.

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Haskins Laboratories and University of Connecticut.


The emergence of human communication systems is typically investigated via 2 approaches with complementary strengths and weaknesses: naturalistic studies and computer simulations. This study was conducted with a method that combines these approaches. Pairs of participants played video games requiring communication. Members of a pair were physically separated but exchanged graphic signals through a medium that prevented the use of standard symbols (e.g., letters). Communication systems emerged and developed rapidly during the games, integrating the use of explicit signs with information implicitly available to players and silent behavior-coordinating procedures. The systems that emerged suggest 3 conclusions: (a) signs originate from different mappings; (b) sign systems develop parsimoniously; (c) sign forms are perceptually distinct, easy to produce, and tolerant to variations.

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