Behavioral dynamics of conversation, (mis)communication and coordination in noisy environments

Kelly Miles*, Adam Weisser, Rachel W. Kallen, Manuel Varlet, Michael J. Richardson, Joerg M. Buchholz

*Corresponding author for this work

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During conversations people coordinate simultaneous channels of verbal and nonverbal information to hear and be heard. But the presence of background noise levels such as those found in cafes and restaurants can be a barrier to conversational success. Here, we used speech and motion-tracking to reveal the reciprocal processes people use to communicate in noisy environments. Conversations between twenty-two pairs of typical-hearing adults were elicited under different conditions of background noise, while standing or sitting around a table. With the onset of background noise, pairs rapidly adjusted their interpersonal distance and speech level, with the degree of initial change dependent on noise level and talker configuration. Following this transient phase, pairs settled into a sustaining phase in which reciprocal speech and movement-based coordination processes synergistically maintained effective communication, again with the magnitude of stability of these coordination processes covarying with noise level and talker configuration. Finally, as communication breakdowns increased at high noise levels, pairs exhibited resetting behaviors to help restore communication—decreasing interpersonal distance and/or increasing speech levels in response to communication breakdowns. Approximately 78 dB SPL defined a threshold where behavioral processes were no longer sufficient for maintaining effective conversation and communication breakdowns rapidly increased.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20271
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023

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Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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