Fuse to be used: A weak cue's guide to attracting attention


Several studies examined cue competition in human learning by testing learners on a combination of conflicting cues rooting for different outcomes, with each cue perfectly predicting its outcome. A common result has been that learners faced with cue conflict choose the outcome associated with the rare cue (the Inverse Base Rate Effect, IBRE). Here, we investigate cue competition including IBRE with sentences containing cues to meanings in a visual world. We do not observe IBRE. Instead we find that position in the sentence strongly influences cue salience. Faced with conflict between an initial cue and a non-initial cue, learners choose the outcome associated with the initial cue, whether frequent or rare. However, a frequent configuration of non-initial cues that are not sufficiently salient on their own can overcome a competing salient initial cue rooting for a different meaning. This provides a possible explanation for certain recurring patterns in language change.

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