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Communicative predictions can overrule linguistic priors


Kroczek,  Leon O. H.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;


Gunter,  Thomas C.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kroczek, L. O. H., & Gunter, T. C. (2017). Communicative predictions can overrule linguistic priors. Scientific Reports, 7: 17581. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-17907-9.

Predictions allow for efficient human communication. To be efficient, listeners’ predictions need to be adapted to the communicative context. Here we show that during speech processing this adaptation is a highly flexible and selective process that is able to fine-tune itself to individual language styles of specific interlocutors. In a newly developed paradigm, speakers differed in the probabilities by which they used particular sentence structures. Probe trials were applied to infer participants’ syntactic expectations for a given speaker and to track changes of these expectations over time. The results show that listeners fine-tune their linguistic expectations according to the individual language style of a speaker. Strikingly, nine months after the initial experiment these highly specific expectations could be rapidly reactivated when confronted with the particular language style of a speaker but not merely on the basis of an association with speaker identity per se. These findings highlight that communicative interaction fine-tunes and consolidates interlocutor specific communicative predictions which can overrule strong linguistic priors.