UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The effect of task difficulty on speech convergence Abel, Jennifer Colleen


Speech convergence is the tendency of talkers to become more similar to someone they are listening or talking to, whether that person is a conversational partner or merely a voice heard repeating words. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown: it may be related to a general link between perception and behaviour (Dijksterhuis & Bargh, 2001), a coupling between speech production and speech perception systems (Pickering & Garrod, 2013), or an effort to minimize social distance between interlocutors (Giles et al., 1991). How convergence is facilitated or inhibited by various factors (e.g., gender, dialect, level of attention) can help pinpoint the reasons behind it. One as-yet unexamined factor in this regard is cognitive workload, i.e., the information processing load a person experiences when performing a task. The harder the task, the greater the cognitive workload. This study examines the effect of different levels of task difficulty on speech convergence within dyads collaborating on a task. Dyad members had to build identical LEGO® constructions without being able to see each other’s construction, and with each member having half of the instructions required to complete the construction. Three levels of task difficulty were created, with five dyads at each level (30 participants total). Listeners (n = 62) who heard pairs of utterances from each dyad judged convergence to be occurring in the Easy condition and to a lesser extent in the Medium condition, but not in the Hard condition. Acoustic similarity analyses of the same utterance pairs using amplitude envelopes and mel-frequency cepstral coefficients showed convergence on the part of some dyads but divergence on the part of others, with no clear effect of difficulty. Speech rate and pausing behaviour, both of which can demonstrate convergence (e.g., Pardo et al., 2013a) and be affected by workload (e.g., Lively et al., 1993; Khawaja, 2010), also showed both convergence and divergence, with difficulty possibly playing a role. The results suggest that difficulty affects speech convergence, but that it may do so differently for different talkers. Factors such as whether talkers are giving or receiving instructions also seem to interact with difficulty in affecting convergence.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada