Utility templates for the interpretation of conditional statements

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Bonnefon, Jean-François ; Haigh, Matthew ; Stewart, Andrew (2013)

People often use conditional statements to describe configurations of agents, actions and valued consequences. In this paper we propose the existence of utility templates, a special subset of these configurations that exert strong constraints on how people interpret conditionals. We conducted an initial completion survey which identified four potential utility templates. Four experiments then examined characteristic effects of these templates: When a described novel situation is close enough to a pre-existing template, people interpret ambiguous information associated with that situation or reinterpret current information in such a way that their understanding of the novel situation fits the template. A process explanation of these effects is considered which allows for the principled generation of other templates, and offers a possible reformulation of the findings within the framework of relevance theory.
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