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Does syntactic alignment effectively influence how speakers are perceived by their conversation partner

Schoot, L., Heyselaar, E., Hagoort, P., & Segaert, K. (2016). Does syntactic alignment effectively influence how speakers are perceived by their conversation partner. PLoS One, 11(4): e015352. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153521.
The way we talk can influence how we are perceived by others. Whereas previous studies have started to explore the influence of social goals on syntactic alignment, in the current study, we additionally investigated whether syntactic alignment effectively influences conversation partners’ perception of the speaker. To this end, we developed a novel paradigm in which we can measure the effect of social goals on the strength of syntactic alignment for one participant (primed participant), while simultaneously obtaining usable social opinions about them from their conversation partner (the evaluator). In Study 1, participants’ desire to be rated favorably by their partner was manipulated by assigning pairs to a Control (i.e., primed participants did not know they were being evaluated) or Evaluation context (i.e., primed participants knew they were being evaluated). Surprisingly, results showed no significant difference in the strength with which primed participants aligned their syntactic choices with their partners’ choices. In a follow-up study, we used a Directed Evaluation context (i.e., primed participants knew they were being evaluated and were explicitly instructed to make a positive impression). However, again, there was no evidence supporting the hypothesis that participants’ desire to impress their partner influences syntactic alignment. With respect to the influence of syntactic alignment on perceived likeability by the evaluator, a negative relationship was reported in Study 1: the more primed participants aligned their syntactic choices with their partner, the more that partner decreased their likeability rating after the experiment. However, this effect was not replicated in the Directed Evaluation context of Study 2. In other words, our results do not support the conclusion that speakers’ desire to be liked affects how much they align their syntactic choices with their partner, nor is there convincing evidence that there is a reliable relationship between syntactic alignment and perceived likeability.

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