[PS-1.12] Contextual effects on online pragmatic inferences

King, J. , Loy, J. & Corley, M.

University of Edinburgh

Where the veracity of a statement is in question, listeners show a bias towards interpreting speaker disfluency as signalling dishonesty. This bias is not limited to post-hoc judgements, but can also be found during online speech processing. The present study investigated whether listeners were influenced by contextual information about the potential causes of speaker disfluency. Participants listened to a speaker describe the location of some treasure, while viewing a scene comprised of the referent and a distractor. They were told that not all utterances were honest, and their task was to click on where they believed the treasure to be. In line with previous work, participants were more likely to click on the distractor when the description was disfluent. Furthermore, this effect corresponded to an early fixation bias to the distractor, demonstrating the online nature of the pragmatic judgement. When there was a plausible external cause of the speaker disfluency (background noise), however, participants initially fixated on the referent, only later fixating on and selecting the distractor. One account of these findings would suggest that whilst participants did make early inferences about the contextual causes of disfluencies, these were overridden by an explicit dishonesty bias for disfluent utterances.