Processing of indirect requests: use of a secondary task to reveal changes of interpretation due to context Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/7s75dg031

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  • Two primary categories of theories about how people process indirect requests such as "Can you tell me the time?" were discussed. 'Multiple-Meaning' theories propose that both the literal meaning of indirect requests ("Are you able to tell me the time?") and the conveyed meaning ("Please tell me the time.") are interpreted. Idiomatic theories suggest that in the appropriate context, the conveyed meaning may be reached without the literal meaning. The purpose of this study was to use a new method for testing whether indirect requests consistent with a person's expectations would be interpreted directly and if changes in interpretation would occur for indirect requests inconsistent with those expectations. Subjects were shown stories (contexts) on a computer CRT followed by test sentences which were indirect requests, direct requests or literal sentences. Stories were biased toward the literal meaning of an indirect request, the conveyed meaning or were ambiguous. Subjects read stories and were then presented a test sentence, one word at a time. At the beginning, middle or end of each test sentence, subjects were interrupted with a secondary task in which they decided whether a number was odd or even. Response times to these secondary tasks were measured. It was predicted that response times would differ at the three secondary task locations depending upon the bias of context and type of test sentence, yielding a three-way interaction. Subjects' response times were found to increase from the beginning to the end of a sentence and these times differed for indirect requests, direct requests and literal sentences. Contrary to the predictions, a three-way interaction was not found and context did not seem to play a role in whether or not changes in interpretation were made. It was concluded that although the predictions were not supported by the results, continued refinement of the method introduced in this study might bring about such support in the future.
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