Vera Kempe

Abertay University



Interaction Between Affective States and Referential Communication Strategies or How Interlocutors Can Talk Themselves Out of a Bad Mood

To date, little is known about how affective states impact language production and comprehension, especially during referential communication. Research in Social Psychology had shown that negative valence is associated with more polite and elaborate request formulation (Forgas, 1999), consistent with the Affect-as-Information Hypothesis which assumes that affective states serve as signals about the environment such that negative affect leads to more elaborate and effortful processing and positive affect to more heuristic processing. We therefore predicted that sad speakers should be less, and happy speakers more ambiguous in language production. Using picture naming and sentence production with imaginary interlocutors, we demonstrated that speakers induced into happy mood produced fewer repairs of temporary ambiguities, and fewer disambiguating relative clauses (Kempe, Rookes & Swarbrigg, 2012).Should one also expect greater ambiguity when happy speakers communicate with real interlocutors given that sustained communication may alter initial mood states? To address this, we induced dyads of participants into positive, negative and neutral mood before asking Directors to describe stars varying in colour, shape and size. Matchers were allowed to ask for clarification and provide feedback. The results demonstrated that, compared to neutral dyads, happy dyads exhibited a trend towards more ambiguous descriptions, and sad dyads produced less verbose statements thereby showing better compliance with the Gricean Maxim of Manner. Although these effects corroborated the earlier findings with imaginary interlocutors, they were not strong. Crucially, we also found that mood changed over time: sad dyads showed improvement in mood reaching a similar degree of affective valence at the end of the interaction as happy and neutral dyads. This mood improvement, which was associated with more frequent turn taking, potentially attenuated mood effects that were present at the outset of the interaction.The next experiment was designed to clarify whether it is speaking per se or interacting with an interlocutor that contributes to mood improvement. Dyads were induced into sad mood, and engaged in referential communication in conditions where Matcher feedback and clarification were either permitted (interaction conditions) or not (broadcast condition). Results showed that mood improved in the interaction and not in the broadcast condition, but only when Director and Matcher roles were sustained over time rather than changing for every item. These findings suggest that communicative interaction is rewarding in itself, independently of semantic content, and point to the importance of considering the reciprocal temporal dynamics of the interplay between affect and referential communication strategies.


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