Are People Sensitive to Problems in Communication?

Ashley Micklos, Bradley Walker, Nicolas Fay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive Science 44 (2020) e12816©2020 Cognitive Science Society, Inc. All rights reserved.ISSN: 1551-6709 onlineDOI: 10.1111/cogs.12816Are People Sensitive to Problems in Communication?Ashley Micklos,a,bBradley Walker,cNicolas FaycaLanguage and Cognition Department, Max Planck Institute for PsycholinguisticsbLinguistics Department, University of California San DiegocSchool of Psychological Sciences, University of Western AustraliaReceived 22 February 2019; received in revised form 20 December 2019; accepted 10 January 2020AbstractRecent research indicates that interpersonal communication is noisy, and that people exhibitconsiderable insensitivity to problems in communication. Using a dyadic referential communica-tion task, the goal of which is accurate information transfer, this study examined the extent towhich interlocutors are sensitive to problems in communication and use other-initiated repairs(OIRs) to address them. Participants were randomly assigned to dyads (N=88 participants, or 44dyads) and tried to communicate a series of recurring abstract geometric shapes to a partner acrossa text–chat interface. Participants alternated between directing (describing shapes) and matching(interpreting shape descriptions) roles across 72 trials of the task. Replicating prior research, overrepeated social interactions communication success improved and the shape descriptions becameincreasingly efficient. In addition, confidence in having successfully communicated the differentshapes increased over trials. Importantly, matchers were less confident on trials in which commu-nication was unsuccessful, communication success was lower on trials that contained an OIR com-pared to those that did not contain an OIR, and OIR trials were associated with lower DirectorConfidence. This pattern of results demonstrates that (a) interlocutors exhibit (a degree of) sensi-tivity to problems in communication, (b) they appropriately use OIRs to address problems incommunication, and (c) OIRs signal problems in communication.
Original languageEnglish
Article number e12816
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


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