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Communication often involves making a commitment of some sort, for instance to a future action. But what does communicators’ commitment amount to? Specifically, are communicators taken to be committed to what they actually say (what is explicit), or to what they mean (including what is implicit)? Some researchers claim that communicating implicit information leads to a lower attribution of commitment and less accountability than does communicating explicit information. Here we present two studies exploring whether the implicit-explicit distinction affects commitment attribution in promises (commissive speech acts), and, crucially, whether commitment attribution is further modulated by degree to which the hearer will actually rely on the promise. Our results support the conclusion that people perceive communicators to be committed to ‘what is meant’, and not simply to ‘what is said’. More generally, our findings add to the experimental literature showing that the implicit-explicit distinction is less pervasive than previously claimed, and that its role in commitment attribution might have been overestimated.
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