The role of individual empathic skills on the online processing of intonational meaning

TitreThe role of individual empathic skills on the online processing of intonational meaning
Publication TypeCommunication
Année de publication2016
AuthorsEsteve-Gibert, Nuria, Cristel Portes, Amy Shafer, Barbara Hemforth, and Mariapaola D'Imperio
Titre de la conférenceArchitectures and Mechanisms of Human Language Processing
Date de publication09/2016

The pragmatic meaning evoked by intonation is known to be processed online by listeners, but less is understood about which part of the contour triggers the meaning interpretation and how individual pragmatic abilities impact intonational processing. Here we investigate the role of empathy skills on the stability and timing of the intonation-meaning association, focusing on a French tune signaling contrast between the interlocutors? beliefs. Twenty-nine French speakers participated in a visual-world eye-tracking task in which a temporary lexical ambiguity could be resolved through intonation. Results showed, first, that low-empathy participants selected one (ultimately incorrect) interpretation during the pre-nuclear region of the contour (?=1.013, p<.05), but participants with higher empathy did not (instead being less stable and considering both possible intonation-meaning associations) (?=-0.413, p=.42). Even when participants perceived clear disambiguating lexical cues, highly-empathic participants showed less strong intonation-meaning associations than less-empathic ones (?=-1.141, p<.05 vs. ?=-1.441, p<.001, respectively). Second, both groups used the nuclear pitch accent to start assigning the contrast meaning to the intonation contour, although they waited for the complete unfolding of the tune to interpret the contrast intonation. We propose that individual pragmatic variability needs to be taken into account when studying the processing of intonational meaning.