The lab has investigated three broad questions. Details about this work, including selected publications, are available through the links.

  • How do people succeed in understanding what the other means?

Credit: Eric Sucar, University Communications

To examine the processes by which people make sense of each other’s utterances, we collect and analyze unscripted conversations between individuals engaged in goal-oriented tasks.By examining what people spontaneously say and do in the course of completing the task, we infer their understanding of the situation as well as their beliefs about the other’s understanding of the same situation. Read more.



  • How does the mind make sense of what people say so accurately and fast?

In order to investigate how the brain uses sensory information in real time to infer what is being said, we place people in situations in which what they see is relevant to what they hear. For instance, we ask participants to follow spoken instructions to click using the computer mouse on one pictured object, among others, while we monitor their eye movements to the objects on the screen. People spontaneously orient their gaze toward the object that they believe is the one they must select. This technique can reveal how quickly people begin to make ‘guesses’ as well as how much these guesses are influenced by biases or other prior expectations. Read more.


  • How do people interpret the prosody of an utterance when prosody plays so many roles?

As experience with a poor speech synthesizer readily demonstrates, a spoken sentence is quite different from the mere concatenation of sounds or syllables: Its prosody groups syllables and words together and renders some elements more prominent than others. Characterizing the roles that phrasing and prominence play has been quite complex because they reflect each of the sentence’s linguistic structures–at the phonological, syntactic, and information structure, as well as on pragmatic aspects of the sentence. The lab has made important contributions to research on prosody by reporting demonstrations of listeners’ immediate uptake of prosodic information during language processing and by providing reviews of the state of the art in the linguistics and psycholinguistics fields. Read more.


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