Ruth Corps

Ruth is a post-doctoral researcher in the Psychology of Language department at the MPI. Her research focuses on how people use language in conversation and, in particular, how the language we study in laboratory studies differs from the way we actually use language naturally. Before coming to the MPI, Ruth completed a post-doc and her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, where she designed experiments investigating how people plan their responses in conversation. Before that, she did a bachelors and research masters in Psychology at the University of Dundee.

In her spare time, Ruth enjoys swimming, climbing, baking, and petting dogs. She also enjoys reading, but this usually leads to naps.

Why is responding quickly important in conversation?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we spent a lot of time video calling each other, using apps like Zoom, Skype, and Teams. If your experience was anything like mine, you probably also thought that these interactions felt less satisfying than the real life equivalent. Connection issues meant that people would often freeze or disappear, their speech would sound odd, and you often wouldn’t know when to take your turn to speak. In fact, these connection issues would mean that there were regularly long gaps between the end of one person’s sentence and the beginning of the next person’s. These gaps would leave you wondering if the other person had heard you, most likely prompting you to say something like “Hello? Are you there?”.

Conversation is not like a game of ping pong

You might have noticed that when you’re having a conversation with another person, you take turns with them – you switch between producing your own sentence and listening to your partner producing theirs. This process seems fairly effortless. In fact, we often take turns with our partner without leaving long gaps between the end of their turn and the start of our own. Research suggests that there is some variability in turn-taking across languages. In Japanese the average gap between turns is around 7 milliseconds, while in Danish it is around 470 milliseconds. However, this gap is most commonly around 200 milliseconds, regardless of the language we speak.