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Creating Understanding

How Communicating Aligns Minds


Jessica Gasiorek and R. Kelly Aune

What, exactly, is understanding? And how do people create, maintain, and manipulate states of understanding via communication? This book addresses these questions, drawing on interdisciplinary scholarship in cognitive science, communication, psychology, and pragmatics. Rejecting classic descriptions of communication as "sending and receiving messages," this book proposes a novel perspective that depicts communication as a process in which interactants construct, test, and refine mental modes of a joint experience on the basis of the meme states (mental representations) activated by stimuli in social interactions. It explains how this process, when successful, results in interactants' mental models aligning, or becoming entrained—in other words, in creating a state of understanding. This framework is grounded in a set of foundational observations about evolved human cognition that highlight people's intrinsic social orientation, predisposition toward efficiency, and use of predictive interference-making. These principles are also used to explain how codified systems ("codes") emerge in extended or repeated interactions in which people endeavor to create understanding. Integrating and synthesizing research across disciplines, this book offers communication scholars and students a theoretical framework that will transform the way they see understanding, communication, and social connection.

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Chapter Six: Contextual Factors



Contextual Factors

In this chapter, we discuss how a subset of contextual factors can affect the process of creating understanding. We first address how the degree of reciprocity and synchrony that an interactional context allows can affect how communicators approach creating understanding, and how they address ambiguities and potential misunderstandings. We then consider the medium of communication as a contextual variable, and discuss how affordances of different communication media can affect the way people create understanding. Next, we address how social and cultural norms can filter stimuli presentation and moderate meme state activation in the process of creating understanding. Finally, we briefly address how communicators’ goals can affect the stimuli they select and how situation models are adjusted through interaction.

In the framework we have proposed so far, we have focused on core concepts and processes involved in creating understanding. We consider the model we have outlined in Chapter 5 to be a general process model that applies across contexts. However, there are also many factors not included in our process model that can affect how people engage in the process of creating understanding. We now turn to a discussion of a subset of such contextual factors. In what follows, we first discuss reciprocity and synchrony as features of the interactive context that can influence how people engage in disambiguation and error correction. We then address the role of the medium of communication in creating understanding. Next, we discuss how...

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