Compensating for an Inattentive Audience
Craycraft, Nicole Neekoo
Do speakers adjust their expectations of a conversational partner when said partner is inattentive, and if so, how are their utterances to the inattentive partner modulated? Here we test the hypothesis that speakers only assume common ground for content where the co-present addressee exhibits attentiveness in a conversation. Speakers learned the names of cartoon monster pictures with two confederates before using the monsters in a communication task; for half the speakers, one partner exhibited inattentive behaviors. In Experiment 1, the inattentive behavior happened in an irrelevant task before the name learning. Speakers were more descriptive overall when a partner was inattentive; however, they did not differentiate in descriptiveness between partners. In Experiment 2, the inattentive behavior happened during the name learning. Speakers were more descriptive when talking to the partner that was previously inattentive compared to a partner who was not, suggesting that the speaker was unsure the inattentive partner correctly learned the names. In Experiment 3, the inattentive behavior happened either during an irrelevant task before the name learning or during the name learning itself. Confirming and extending the results of Experiment 2, speakers were only more descriptive when talking to the partner who was inattentive during the name learning portion and did not discriminate between partners inattentive during the irrelevant task and fully attentive partners. The present findings supported the hypothesis, and in addition, show that effects of addressee attentiveness are specific to the information exchanged during the inattentive period.