When a conversation is running smoothly, you know exactly when to nod, hum, or when to start your turn. You feel understood and connected to your conversational partner. However, a conversation may also contain awkward silences, simultaneous starts, and an overall feeling of stuttering and stammering. During such conversations, you are often left with feelings of distance and mutual incomprehension. In her PhD thesis, Anne van Leeuwen (Language and communication) explored the affective impact of these temporal patterns. The defence will take place on 15 December.
'Being in sync'
Many people share the intuition that the expression of ‘being in sync’ with someone means that you are somehow in tune, in agreement, or in harmony with the other. This dissertation explores whether this intuition is correct; it investigates whether specific temporal patterns between turn-taking speakers, including synchronization of speech rhythms, shape the affective impression of speakers in conversation. The answer to this question can broaden our understanding of the affective push-and-pull of spoken interaction that we experience every day.
This question was explored by presenting participants with short fragments of dialogues between speakers in which she manipulated the temporal patterns between those speakers. Participants were then asked to rate the perceived degree of affiliation between the speakers of those fragments. In the last study of this dissertation she also recorded participants' real-time affective response during listening to these fragments. Van Leeuwen found that, in addition to the presence of overlapping talk, responding too early given the beat of the previous speaker conveys disaffiliation.
Sign of affiliation
So it does not only matter what you say and whether you interrupt the preceding speaker, it sometimes also matters whether you say it on the beat of the preceding rhythm. ‘Being in sync’ is not just a figure of speech, but a real sign of affiliation in spoken dialogue.