Measures and mechanisms of common ground: backchannels, conversational repair, and interactive alignment in free and task-oriented social interactions

Abstract

A crucial aspect of everyday conversational interactions is our ability to establish and maintain common ground. Understanding the relevant mechanisms involved in such social coordination remains an important challenge for cognitive science. While common ground is often discussed in very general terms, different contexts of interaction are likely to afford different coordination mechanisms. In this paper, we investigate the presence and relation of three mechanisms of social coordination – backchannels, interactive alignment and conversational repair – across free and task-oriented conversations. We find significant differences: task-oriented conversations involve higher presence of repair – restricted offers in particular – and backchannel, as well as a reduced level of lexical and syntactic alignment. We find that restricted repair is associated with lexical alignment and open repair with backchannels. Our findings highlight the need to explicitly assess several mechanisms at once and to investigate diverse social activities to understand their role and relations.


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