Tit-for-Tat: Effects of Feedback and Speaker Reliability on Listener Comprehension Effort


Miscommunication is often seen as a detrimental aspect of human communication. However, miscommunication can differ in cause as well as severity. What distinguishes a miscommunication where conversation partners continue to put forth the effort from miscommunication where conversation partners simply give up? In this eye-tracking study, participants heard globally ambiguous statements that were either a result of an experimental error or speaker underspecification; participants either received positive or negative feedback on these ambiguous trials. We found that negative feedback, paired with the reliability of the message, will impact the amount of processing effort a comprehender puts forth—specifically, listeners were less forgiving of errors when they were penalized and when speakers’ instructions lacked effort. This suggests that language users weigh conversational contexts and outcomes as well as linguistic content during communication.

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