Commitment and communication: Are we committed to what we mean, or what we say?

Language and Cognition 12 (2):360-384 (2020)
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Are communicators perceived as committed to what they actually say (what is explicit), or to what they mean (including what is implicit)? Some research claims that explicit communication leads to a higher attribution of commitment and more accountability than implicit communication. Here we present theoretical arguments and experimental data to the contrary. We present three studies exploring whether the saying–meaning distinction affects commitment attribution in promises, and, crucially, whether commitment attribution is further modulated by the degree to which the hearer will actually rely on the promise. Our results support the conclusion that people perceive communicators to be committed to ‘what is meant’, and not simply to ‘what is said’. Our findings add to the experimental literature showing that the saying–meaning distinction is not as pivotal to social relations as often assumed, and that its role in commitment attribution might be overestimated. The attribution of commitment is strongly dependent on the (mutually known) relevance of ‘what is meant’.



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Author Profiles

Christophe Heintz
Central European University
Francesca Bonalumi
Technische Universität München

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