Cognitive and social delays in the initiation of conversational repair


The exact timing of a conversational turn conveys important information to a listener. Most turns are initiated within 250ms after the previous turn. However, interlocutors take longer to initiate certain types of turns: those that either require more cognitive processing or are socially dispreferred. Many dispreferred turns are also cognitively demanding, so it is difficult to attribute specific conversational delays to social or cognitive mechanisms. In this paper, we evaluate the relative contribution of cognitive and social variables to the timing of utterances in conversation.

We focus on a type of turn that is socially dispreferred, cognitively demanding, and generally delayed: other-initiations of repair (OIRs). OIRs occur when a listener notices and decides to signal a comprehension problem (e.g., "What?"). We analyzed the Floor Transfer Offsets of 456 OIRs, and found that interlocutors initiated OIRs later when trouble sources had weaker discourse context or were shorter, and when the OIR was more face-threatening. Our results suggest that both cognitive and social variables contribute to the timing of delayed utterances in conversation. We discuss how attention, prediction, planning, and social preference manifest in the timing of turns.