Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education


Conversational alignment refers to the tendency for communication partners to adjust their verbal and non-verbal behaviors to become more like one another during the course of human interaction. This alignment phenomenon has been observed in neural patterns, specifically in the prefrontal areas of the brain (Holper et al., 2013; Cui et al., 2012; Dommer et al., 2012; Holper et al., 2012; Funane et al., 2011; Jiang et al., 2012); verbal behaviors such acoustic speech features (e.g., Borrie & Liss, 2014; Borrie et al., 2015; Lubold & Pon-Barry, 2014), phonological features (e.g., Babel, 2012; Pardo, 2006), lexical selection (e.g., Brennan & Clark, 1996; Garrod & Anderson, 1989), syntactic structure (e.g., Branigan, Pickering, & Cleland, 2000; Reitter, Moore, & Keller, 2006); and motor behaviors including body posture, facial expressions and breathing rate (e.g., Furuyama, Hayashi, & Mishima, 2005; Louwerse, Dale, Bard, & Jeuniaux, 2012; Richardson, March, & Schmit, 2005; Shockley, Santana, & Fowler, 2003; McFarland, 2001).

While conversational alignment in itself, is a largely physical phenomenon, it has been linked to significant functional value, both in the cognitive and social domains. Cognitively, conversational alignment facilitates spoken message comprehension, enabling listeners to share mental models (Garrod & Pickering, 2004) and generate temporal predictions about upcoming aspects of speech. From a social perspective, behavioral alignment has been linked with establishing turn-taking behaviors, and with increased feelings of rapport, empathy, and intimacy between conversational pairs (e.g., Lee et al. 2010; Nind, & Macrae, 2009; Smith, 2008; Bailenson & Yee, 2005; Chartrand & Barg, 1999; Miles, Putman & Street, 1984; Street & Giles, 1982). Benus (2014), for example, observed that individuals who align their speech features are perceived as more socially attractive and likeable, and have interactions that are more successful. These cognitive and social benefits, associated with conversational alignment, have been observed in both linguistic and neural data (e.g., Holper et al., 2012; 2013, Cui et al. 2012; Jiang et al., 2012; Egetemeir et al., 2011; Stephens et al. 2010).

The purpose of the current study was to examine conversational alignment as a multi-level communication phenomenon, by examining the relationship between neural and speech behaviors. To assess neural alignment, we used Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), a non-invasive neuroimaging technology that detects cortical increases and decreases in the concentration of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin at multiple measurement sites to determine the rate that oxygen is being released and absorbed (Ferrari & Quaresima, 2012). While still considered a relatively new neural imaging technique, NIRS has been well established as an efficacious and effective data collection approach, particularly appropriate for social interaction research (e.g., Holper et al., 2013; Jiang et al., 2012; Holper et al., 2012; Suda et al., 2010). We utilized hyperscanning, a technique that allows for the quantitation of two simultaneous signals, allowing us to document neural alignment between two individuals (Babiloni & Astolfi, 2012). Recent studies have revealed neural alignment between two persons in cooperative states, including alignment in the right superior frontal cortices and medial prefrontal regions (Cui et al., 2012; Dommer et al., 2012; Funane et al., 2011). This increased prefrontal interbrain alignment has also been observed in other social interactions, including joint attention tasks (Dommer et al., 2012), imitation tasks (Holper et al., 2012), competitive games (Cheng et al., 2015, Duan et al., 2013), teaching-learning interactions (Holper et al., 2013), face- to-face communication (Jiang et al., 2012), mother-child interactions (Hirata et al., 2014), and during cooperative singing tasks (Osaka et al., 2015). Interestingly, Jiang et al. (2012) showed that increased neural alignment only occurred between conversational participants when they were speaking face-to-face, but not when participants had their backs facing one another. The authors speculated that the multi-sensory information, for example motor behaviors such as gestures, was required for neural alignment to occur.