Processing and Interpretation of Turn-Timing in Conversation (InterTurn) - 2023-2026

[InterTurn is hiring: 3-year Post-Doc position starting btw. 1 January and 1 April 2023; see here for offer]



This three-year research project will experimentally investigate the processes of interpreting silent pauses between two turns of talk in conversation. The timing of utterances is known to influence how the following turn will be interpreted - the so called gap effect. For instance, granting a request after a long silent pause can be interpreted as unwillingness to actually do the favour. Previous research on how utterances are interpreted mainly focused on the linguistic content of an utterance, i.e., on what is said, ignoring utterance-timing. Yet, investigating the processes of timing interpretation and what factors influence it will be key to fully understanding how interlocutors understand each other in social interactions. The proposed research project will (a) identify under what conditions the gap effect emerges, (b) answer how the gap effect is modulated by factors of processing capacity (e.g. attention and language proficiency), and (c) characterize the cognitive processes that are at play when gaps are interpreted and when expectations about the upcoming response become influenced by the gap. We will explore the gap effect with a multi-method and multi-angles approach that breaks new ground on several frontiers while being informed by previous research in conversation analysis, linguistics, and cognitive psychology. To arrive at a comprehensive description of turn-timing interpretation, we will use behavioural, eye-tracking, and physiological methods as well as state-of-the-art statistics, capitalizing on the strengths and advantages of each of them.

In three work packages, we will gradually zoom in into the processes of gap interpretation, collecting rating responses, EEG data, and eye-movement data to investigate the cognitive processes of gap interpretation and the time-course of participants' expectations about the upcoming response generated during the gap between turns. The project's results will enable us to evaluate the adequacy of competing models of language comprehension.