Cogn Sci 2019 08;43(8):e12780
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh.
Coordination between speakers in dialogue requires balancing repetition and change, the old and the new. Interlocutors tend to reuse established forms, relying on communicative precedents. Yet linguistic interaction also necessitates adaptation to changing contexts or dynamic tasks, which might favor abandoning existing precedents in favor of better communicative alternatives. We explored this tension using a maze game task in which individual participants and interacting pairs had to describe figures and their positions in one of two possible maze types: a regular maze, in which the grid-like structure of the maze is highlighted, and an irregular maze, in which specific parts of the maze are salient. Participants repeated this task several times. Both individuals and interacting pairs were affected by the different maze layouts, initially using more idiosyncratic description schemes for irregular mazes and more systematic schemes for regular mazes. Interacting pairs, but not individuals, abandoned their unsystematic initial descriptions in favor of a more systematic approach, which was better adapted for repeated interaction. Our results show communicative conventions are initially shaped by context, but interaction opens up the possibility for change if better alternatives are available.