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Page history last edited by philosophyofsocialcognition 13 years, 3 months ago




The world is comprised of infinite sums of information. Humans are excellent at parsing and using salient information about the world to conduct necessary behaviours (eg. finding food, shelter, water, reproducing, etc) and to avoid danger. Sperber and Wilson (2002) propose that humans must employ a system of cognitive efficiency when processing information. The cognitive efficiency model suggests that humans must be able to balance the cognitive costs of processing information with the benefit of the information gained. In particular it is maximally beneficial to humans to gain the most information with the least amount of cognitive effort. To be most cognitively efficient humans must be able to attend to only the relevant information in any situation, therefore reducing the amount of cognitive effort it takes to processes irrelevant information in the environment.



Furthermore, Sperber and Wilson (2002) suggest that humans make many attempts to maximally detect relevant information. One way in which they can do this is by combining perceived information in the world with information that has been stored in memory. This allows humans to be more cognitively efficient and to be able to make predictions about the nature of things in the world.



Sperber and Wilson (2002) suggest that humans attend to relevant information most in communication. Humans tend to take notice to the inferences made by others, either communicatively through spoken language, or non-verbally through body language. Sperber and Wilson (2002) claim that cognitive efficiency requires that people “follow a path of least effort in computing cognitive effects,” and then, "stop when your expectations of relevance are satisfied.” Humans are able to make lists or rank hypotheses in regards to possible explanations, and  they iterate through them staring at the most available, and stopping only at the most relevantly explanatory. Regardless, many in the field of relevance theory still consider the question as to how humans are able to find and use the most relevant information in any given situation entirely uncertain.



If Sperber and Wilson (2002) were correct in their assumption about the nature of determining relevance, then we should expect that when communicating, people will not only try to maximize the relevance of their utterances but also the availability. Consequently we would also expect that the listener would then be justified in following a path of least effort, if they assumed that the speaker was stating things in the most relevant way possible. However, this is often not the case, but humans appear to be able to use this methodology of interpretation to determine the most plausible hypothesis on the intention of the other person. Sperber and Wilson (2002) point out that relevance may be a sub component of folk psychological mind reading, but rather than attempting to focus on the beliefs / desires of the communicator, they suggest that one is simply inferring the intentions of another by basing one’s hypotheses on one’s expectations of relevance.





  • Hendricks, S. (2006). The frame problem and theories of belief. Philosophical Studies, 129(2), 317-333.
  • Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1996). Fodor's frame problem and relevance theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 19(3), 530(3)-533.
  • Wilson, D. & Sperber, D. (2002). Truthfulness and relevance. Mind, 111(443), 583-632.
  • Wilson, D., & Sperber, D. (2002). Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading. Mind and Language, 17(1-2), 3-23.
  • Wilson, D., & Sperber, D. (2004). Relevance theory. [La teoria de la relevancia] Revista De Investigacion Linguistica, 2004, 7, 7, 237-285.


-  Amanda Pogue, University of Toronto

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