Coming to terms: Quantifying the benefits of linguistic coordination

Psychological Science 23 (8):931-939 (2012)

Abstract

Sharing a public language facilitates particularly efficient forms of joint perception and action by giving interlocutors refined tools for directing attention and aligning conceptual models and action. We hypothesized that interlocutors who flexibly align their linguistic practices and converge on a shared language will improve their cooperative performance on joint tasks. To test this prediction, we employed a novel experimental design, in which pairs of participants cooperated linguistically to solve a perceptual task. We found that dyad members generally showed a high propensity to adapt to each other’s linguistic practices. However, although general linguistic alignment did not have a positive effect on performance, the alignment of particular task-relevant vocabularies strongly correlated with collective performance. In other words, the more dyad members selectively aligned linguistic tools fit for the task, the better they performed. Our work thus uncovers the interplay between social dynamics and sensitivity to task affordances in successful cooperation.

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