Do Younger and Older Adults' Communicative Goals Influence Off-Topic Speech in Autobiographical Narratives?

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Abstract

The present research investigated younger and older adults' communicative goals and their effects on off-topic speech for autobiographical narratives. Participants indicated their communicative goals by rating preferences among paired goals, for example, focus-fascinating, one of which was designated as an expressive goal, appropriate for producing elaborative speech, and one of which was an objective goal, suited to producing concise speech. The participants then told stories about episodic and procedural topics, which were rated by groups of younger and older listeners. Age differences emerged in communicative goals, where younger adults clearly favored expressive goals for episodic topics and objective goals for procedural topics. In contrast, older adults' goals were more diverse, consisting of a mixture of expressive and objective goals for both topic types, without a clear preference. Younger adults' goals predicted ratings of off-topic speech assessed by listeners: Younger and older adults were perceived as equivalently focused, coherent, and clear for episodic topics, but older adults were perceived as less focused, less clear, and more talkative than younger adults on procedural topics. These results suggest that age-related changes in off-topic speech emerge as a result of younger adults selecting goals designed to produce more succinct stories.

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