Nods, vocal continuers, and the perception of empathy in storytelling

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In her influential paper on stance, alignment, and affiliation in conversational storytelling, Tanya Stivers argued that two basic conversational means of receiving a story, nods and vocal continuers, differ in their function: whereas vocal continuers display alignment with the telling activity, nods, during the mid-telling, convey affiliation with the storytellers' affective stance. In this paper, we elaborate these insights on the basis of a quantitative study informed by conversation analysis. Using a database of 317 stories told in Finnish, we analyzed how story recipients' nods and continuers in different phases of storytelling (before and after the story climax) predict naive raters' judgments of the story recipients' empathy toward the storyteller. We found that vocal continuers accounted for the perception of empathy during mid-telling, whereas the effect of nods remained weak. The study offers further support to the notion of structural organization of storytelling, and suggests that the significance of vocal continuers as a vehicle of empathy may be greater than has been generally thought of.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)310-330
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology
  • affiliation
  • 515 Psychology

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