Predicting turn-ends in discourse context

Research suggests that during conversation, interlocutors coordinate their utterances by predicting the speaker’s forthcoming utterance and its end. In two experiments, we used a button-pressing task, in which participants pressed a button when they thought a speaker reached the end of their utterance, to investigate what role the wider discourse plays in turn-end prediction. Participants heard two-utterance sequences, in which the content of the second utterance was or was not constrained by the content of the first. In both experiments, participants responded earlier, but not more precisely, when the first utterance was constraining rather than unconstraining. Response times and precision were unaffected by whether they listened to dialogues or monologues (Experiment 1) and by whether they read the first utterance out loud or silently (Experiment 2), providing no indication that activation of production mechanisms facilitates prediction. We suggest that content predictions aid comprehension but not turn-end prediction.