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Don't Talk about Pink Elephants! Speakers' Control over Leaking Private Information during Language Production

Liane Wardlow Lane, Michelle Groisman and Victor S. Ferreira
Psychological Science
Vol. 17, No. 4 (Apr., 2006), pp. 273-277
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40064532
Page Count: 5
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Don't Talk about Pink Elephants! Speakers' Control over Leaking Private Information during Language Production
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Abstract

Speakers' descriptions sometimes inappropriately refer to information known only to them, thereby "leaking" knowledge of that private information. We evaluated whether speakers can explicitly control such leakage in light of its communicative consequences. Speakers described mutually known objects (e.g., a triangle) that had size-contrasting matches that were privileged to the speakers (e.g., a larger triangle visible to the speakers only), so that use of a contrasting adjective (e.g., small) involved referring to the privileged information. Half the time, speakers were instructed to conceal the identity of the privileged object. If speakers can control their leaked references to privileged information, this conceal instruction should make such references less likely. Surprisingly, the conceal instruction caused speakers to refer to privileged objects more than they did in the baseline condition. Thus, not only do speakers have difficulty not leaking privileged information, but attempts to avoid such leakage only make it more likely.

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