Cost-benefit analyses in communicating
Herbert H. Clark, Stanford University
To communicate is to make common. According to past research, when Allan tries to make something common with Barbara, he creates a display for which (1) he and she try to reach joint closure on (2) what he is to be taken to mean (3) well enough for current purposes (4) with a minimum of joint effort. But how do people satisfy these constraints in spontaneous interactions? Here I appeal to Thomas Schelling’s concept of egonomics (a type of self-management): people try to take actions at time 1 (e.g., refraining from alcohol) that they anticipate will maximize benefits and minimize costs for them at time 2 (e.g., driving a car home without crashing). In conversation, participants try to take actions at time 1 (e.g., choosing a word, or requesting a repair) that they anticipate will maximize their joint benefits and minimize their joint costs at time 2 (e.g., reaching joint closure on what a person means satisfactorily with a minimum of joint effort). Participants cannot do this without a continuous cost-benefit analysis of their current options. I review some of the strategies that result from this process over several time-scales–from milliseconds to minutes.