Vogels, Jorrig; Howcroft, David M.; Tourtouri, Elli; Demberg, Vera

How speakers adapt object descriptions to listeners under load

Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 35, Routledge, pp. 78-92, 2019.

A controversial issue in psycholinguistics is the degree to which speakers employ audience design during language production. Hypothesising that a consideration of the listener’s needs is particularly relevant when the listener is under cognitive load, we had speakers describe objects for a listener performing an easy or a difficult simulated driving task. We predicted that speakers would introduce more redundancy in their descriptions in the difficult driving task, thereby accommodating the listener’s reduced cognitive capacity. The results showed that speakers did not adapt their descriptions to a change in the listener’s cognitive load. However, speakers who had experienced the driving task themselves before and who were presented with the difficult driving task first were more redundant than other speakers. These findings may suggest that speakers only consider the listener’s needs in the presence of strong enough cues, and do not update their beliefs about these needs during the task.