Behind the closed doors, members of the Human Communication Lab are working on several lines of scientific investigation. Our current research efforts focus on four themes.

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Functions
of Gestures

Language, Communication, and Cognition

The Vocal Embodiment of Identity

Language Convergence and Accommodation



Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Functions of Gestures

Our research on conversational hand gestures (unplanned, articulate hand movements that often acompany conversational speech) has examined (1) the information they convey to others (their interpersonal function) and (2) the role they play in speech production (their intrapersonal function). Although such gestures are usually thought of as communicatively intended, we have found that they convey relatively little information, but that they aid the speaker in formulating speech. (For a review of this work see Krauss, R. M., Chen, Y., & Chawla, P. (1996))... Our current research focuses on the mechanisms by which gestures affect lexical retrieval, the relationship of the conceptual content of speech to the gestures that accompany it, the effect of seeing a speaker's gestures on memory for narratives, and the effects of restricting speakers' gestures on their mental representations of the things they speak about.

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Language, Communication, and Cognition

The traditional view of the relationship of language and thought (e.g., the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis) focuses on the way a language's grammar shapes its speakers' world views, emphasizing the cognitive consequences of structural differences among languages. In contrast, we have focused on the role of language use, rather than language structure. We hypothesize that articulating a linguistic form activates a mental representations in the speaker that can influence subsequent cognition. Since the communication often constrains the particular form linguistic expressions take, our research examines the ways communicative factors that influence language use affect the way speakers think about the things they talk about. (A discussion of this approach can be found in Chiu, Krauss & Lau (1998)).

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The Vocal Embodiment of Identity

Language use embodies a speaker's identity, and ways of talking can serve to reveal to others the speaker's definition of the situation, and the dimension of his/her identity that is active. We are particularly interested in the information speech conveys about a speaker's personal and social identity, and the ways speech mediates the negotiation of identity in social situations, (For a first study on this topic, see Krauss, Freyberg & Morsella, 2001)

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Language Convergence and Accommodation

In interaction, participants' speech becomes more similar to the speech of their coparticipants. This convergence or accommodation can be seen at all levels of speech--from the phonetic to the lexical. We are interested in understanding the factors that govern this process and its functional significance for interpersonal relations.

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