Sources of variability in human communicative skills

Inge Volman, Matthijs Leendert Noordzij, Ivan Toni

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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When established communication systems cannot be used, people rapidly create novel systems to modify the mental state of another agent according to their intentions. However, there are dramatic inter-individual differences in the implementation of this human competence for communicative innovation. Here we characterize psychological sources of inter-individual variability in the ability to build a shared communication system from scratch. We consider two potential sources of variability in communicative skills. Cognitive traits of two individuals could independently influence their joint ability to establish a communication system. Another possibility is that the overlap between those individual traits influences the communicative performance of a dyad. We assess these possibilities by quantifying the relationship between cognitive traits and behavior of communicating dyads. Cognitive traits were assessed with psychometric scores quantifying cooperative attitudes and fluid intelligence. Competence for implementing successful communicative innovations was assessed by using a non-verbal communicative task. Individual capacities influence communicative success when communicative innovations are generated. Dyadic similarities and individual traits modulate the type of communicative strategy chosen. The ability to establish novel communicative actions was influenced by a combination of the communicator's ability to understand intentions and the addressee's ability to recognize patterns. Communicative pairs with comparable systemizing abilities or behavioral inhibition were more likely to explore the search space of possible communicative strategies by systematically adding new communicative behaviors to those already available. No individual psychometric measure seemed predominantly responsible for communicative success. These findings support the notion that the human ability for fast communicative innovations represents a special type of complex collaborative activity
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in human neuroscience
Issue number310
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2012


  • Social cognition
  • Joint action
  • Cooperation
  • Interactive intelligence
  • Tacit communication game


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