Landmark-first is best word order for giving directions

London, Dec 10 (IANS) What is the best way to give directions? To give clear directions, it is not enough to say the right things: saying them in the right order is also important, a new study said.

Sentences that start with a prominent landmark and end with the object of interest work better than sentences where this order is reversed, the study found.

The results could have direct applications in the fields of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.

“People are quicker to find a hard-to-see person in an image when the directions mention a prominent landmark first, as in ‘Next to the horse is the man in red’, rather than last, as in ‘The man in red is next to the horse’,” said lead author Alasdair Clarke from University of Aberdeen in Britain.

The researchers asked volunteers to focus on a particular human figure within the visually cluttered cartoons of the ‘Where’s Wally?’ children’s books.

The researchers found that the most frequently used word order, ‘landmark-first-target-second’, is also the most effective — people who heard descriptions with this order needed on average less time to find the human figure in the cartoon than people who heard descriptions with the reverse order.

“Listeners start processing the directions before they’re finished, so it’s good to give them a head start by pointing them towards something they can find quickly, such as a landmark.”

“But if the target your listener is looking for is itself easy to see, then you should just start your directions with that,” said co-author Micha Elsner from Ohio State University.

These results could help to develop computer algorithms for automatic direction-giving, the researchers said.

The study was published in he journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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