Playing Taboo with a Stranger

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterOther research output

138 Downloads (Pure)


Do friends communicate more accurately and more efficiently than strangers? Most people think that they do and often refer to anecdotal evidence, like a pair of good friends only needing a few words to describe names in the celebrity game. Friends can use shared knowledge or common knowledge to explain things to each other, while strangers are restricted to common knowledge. Previous studies showed that messages designed for a friend are less well understood by strangers (Fussel and Krauss, 1989), often incorrectly taken as evidence that friends communicate better than strangers. Another study shows that when describing unfamiliar things, friends do not outperform strangers (Schober, & Carstensen, 2009), but when describing unfamiliar things, shared knowledge cannot play an important role. We let participants play a word description game via e-mail either with a friend or with a stranger. In this game, common objects or people need to be described without using five taboo words, thereby taking away the easiest possible descriptions based on common knowledge. If shared knowledge indeed makes communication more effective, it should be beneficial in this situation as it provides an easy alternative to the taboo words. However, our results show that friends are no better in correctly guessing the described words than strangers. And although friends indeed use common knowledge, it does not increase accuracy. Thus, a message designed for a stranger is understood as well by that stranger as a message designed for friend is understood by that friend.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventIARR conference - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 10 Jul 201413 Jul 2014


ConferenceIARR conference


Dive into the research topics of 'Playing Taboo with a Stranger'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this