Listening with Tools: The Intersection of Affordances and Language
AuthorJacobs, Kenneth Walter
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Seventeen undergraduates participated in five single-case experiments that investigated whether the provision of handheld tools, to manipulate objects specified by instructions, would facilitate or inhibit instruction following. Participants were presented with stimulus arrays accompanied by either ambiguous or unambiguous instructions. Ambiguous instructions could be interpreted as specifying either of two actions and unambiguous instructions could be interpreted as specifying only one action. The study was designed to test whether tools would constrain participants’ possibilities for action and clarify ambiguous instructions as a result. Experiment 1 showed that tools do not clarify instructions that are ambiguous, as participants emitted more incorrect responses with a tool than with their hands. Experiment 2 strengthened that claim by showing that the structure of stimulus arrays alone did not control the incorrect responding observed when participants wielded a tool in the first experiment. Experiment 3 showed that the emission of incorrect responses with a tool could be remedied with the addition of verbal contextual cues that rendered ambiguous instructions unambiguous. Given unambiguous instructions, correct responses were emitted on all trials with a tool. Experiment 4 was a replication of Experiment 1 with positive results and Experiment 5 tested whether tools that do not constrain possibilities for action would still result in a decrement in correct responses. Experiment 5 showed that when constraints on responding by tools are absent, listeners do not emit the incorrect responses observed in Experiments 1 and four. Altogether these experiments provide evidence that tools that constrain possibilities for action inhibit instruction following unless a speaker’s utterances are fully unambiguous.