Cooney, G*., & Wheatley T. (forthcoming). Conversation. In E.Finkel, S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & W. Mendes (Eds.). Handbook of Social Psychology, 6th Edition.
Conversation is an ancient and enduring human technology. Throughout history, people have talked with one another to persuade, cooperate, exchange knowledge, express emotion, indulge in gossip, laugh, make friends, and fall in love. Yet, the pervasive and seemingly effortless nature of conversation conceals its complexity as a highly coordinated system of exchange that facilitates social interaction. Despite the conversation’s status as the primordial site of sociality, its systematic study has a relatively brief history. This history is also difficult to appreciate because it is scattered across disciplines, as its complexity demands, from linguistics to sociology to psychology to computer science. This chapter synthesizes these varied literatures to extract a set of core features that characterize the conversation system. The discussion is guided by three interconnected themes.
First, conversation is built around a highly coordinated system of turn-taking. Second, this turn-level coordination serves as the foundation for mental coordination, a state of “intersubjectivity” or shared minds, that fuels the conversation machine. Third, with this extensive degree of turn-level and cognitive coordination, conversation partners also coordinate two primary goals, the informational (i.e., the transmission of information) and the relational (i.e., the formation and maintenance of social bonds), which give rise to the distinct phenomenology of conversation, the norms that govern it, and even common conversational errors. This chapter seeks to foster a deeper appreciation of the exquisite coordination that lies at the heart of the conversation system—of turns, minds, and goals—which may inspire new research and encourage scholars from diverse disciplines to embrace conversation as a primary object of inquiry.