Is helpful or unhelpful linguistic behaviour responded to reciprocally by an interactant’s subsequent linguistic or social behaviour?
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Rivett-Carnac, Alice J
Do people reciprocate linguistically when instructions have helpful or unhelpful properties? Past studies have provided evidence of reciprocity in language: people describe scenes from another’s perspective to the same extent that the other described the scene to them (Schober, 1993); and they reciprocate helpfulness when designing certain utterances (Haywood et al., 2003). The current study aimed to find evidence that reciprocity exists at a linguistic level and that the way a person is treated linguistically can influence their behaviour in a social context. In Phase One naïve participants interacted with confederates in a card-sorting task in which Directors described to a Matcher the target grid-location of cards depicting coloured and patterned shapes. Target cards were contained in two boxes and divided according to the colour and pattern of the shape they depicted. In the colour box cards were primarily divided by colour and subdivided by pattern while in the pattern box they were divided by pattern and then colour. Confederate Directors were either helpful (descriptions contained box-relevant adjective orders in a helpfully-structured sentence) or unhelpful (descriptions were box-irrelevant and demanded greater cognitive resources). In Phase Two participants’ behaviour in two help-related situations was recorded. Multivariate ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of confederate helpfulness on participant adjective-order helpfulness (F1 = 5.56, p < 0.05) and on a number of variables measuring the way participants structured their sentences (e.g., whether they paused while their partner found the shape: F1 = 8.75, p < 0.01). No solid conclusions could be drawn about the influence of linguistic treatment on social helping behaviours, and a number of reasons are proposed for the influence of interactant’s linguistic helpfulness on that of participants. Although one of these reasons is that participants were reciprocating linguistically, further studies into linguistic reciprocity are necessary before its existence can be said to be supported.