Mechanisms of Convergent and Complementary Alignment in Conversation

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This dissertation explores human coordination in rhythmic, verbal, and spatial activity, and how coordination in one of these modes may subsequently impact behavior in another mode. My research examines what effects non-conversational actions have on the alignment of spatial perspectives during conversation. I hope to clarify how data about non-linguistic alignment - specifically, its fluency and the co-presence of an aligning partner - may inform expectations about the anticipated difficulty of interactions. These experiments test a claim from Pickering and Garrod’s (2004) Interactive Alignment framework: “alignment at one level leads to alignment at another level.” The experiments I present explore whether non-conversational alignment (or misalignment) carries over to linguistic performance - specifically, the way in which we express spatial perspective to others. This was accomplished using a quantitative approach to naturalistic conversations between adult pairs about simple spatial stimuli. The content of these conversations differs based on a task participants performed before the conversation that induced particular patterns of interpersonal alignment. These tasks were different for each experiment: Task 1 manipulated the dynamic stability of partners’ physical coordination with each other, Task 2 manipulated partners’ feelings of social similarity, Task 3 manipulated the dynamic stability of partners’ coordination with an external rhythm, and Task 4 manipulated the difficulty of collaborative or solo achievement of a physical goal. The results of these studies show that, in the absence of collaborative activity, social similarity and rhythmic entrainment can lead to greater conversational effort, but physical alignment enhances conversational alignment best when both partners’ actions are oriented toward a mutual goal.

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  • 04/03/2019
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