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An Evaluation of Listener Comprehension Indecision and Cognitive Effort When Unresolvable Ambiguity Leads to Miscommunication  /

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  1. Ashley Ferguson

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Description: Momentary miscommunication, when left unresolved, may lead to long-lasting effects that negatively impact communication. One of the major factors behind miscommunications is ambiguity, which might arise, e.g., due to different perspectives of the speaker and the listener, or as a result of misinformation of the listener by the speaker. Here we report two studies investigating how the type of ambiguity affects listeners' willingness to comprehend a confusing speaker. Both studies used a mouse and eye-tracking paradigm to evaluate listener processing effort and decision making during an unresolvable miscommunication task, in which the participants were presented with pre-recorded ambiguous instructions from a pseudo-confederate. Our results indicated that participants behave reciprocally in conversation: the type of ambiguity affected the effort they exerted when listening to a confusing speaker. Furthermore, eye dwell time analysis revealed that less processing effort was exerted when no salient visual cue was presented to recruit attentional resources. However, when an environmental cue was presented that made the miscommunication salient (i.e., in the form of interference or a perspective taking cue), listeners put forth more processing effort. Moreover, we show that perspective taking and decision making complexity metrics are positively related to increases in language processing effort -- indicating that instances of miscommunication produced cognitive consequences of indecision, thinking, and cognitive pull. Overall, this work provides an important step into evaluating the impact of miscommunication on language use and understanding.

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