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Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2012 Jul-Aug;47(4):373-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-6984.2012.00151.x. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Timing of gazes in child dialogues: a time-course analysis of requests and back channelling in referential communication.

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Department of Logopedics, Phoniatrics and Audiology, Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

Erratum in

  • Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2012 Jul-Aug;47(4):384-7.



This study investigates gaze behaviour in child dialogues. In earlier studies the authors have investigated the use of requests for clarification and responses in order to study the co-creation of understanding in a referential communication task. By adding eye tracking, this line of research is now expanded to include non-verbal contributions in conversation.


To investigate the timing of gazes in face-to-face interaction and to relate the gaze behaviour to the use of requests for clarification.


Eight conversational pairs of typically developing 10-15 year olds participated. The pairs (director and executor) performed a referential communication task requiring the description of faces. During the dialogues both participants wore head-mounted eye trackers. All gazes were recorded and categorized according to the area fixated (Task, Face, Off). The verbal context for all instances of gaze at the partner's face was identified and categorized using time-course analysis.


The results showed that the executor spends almost 90% of the time fixating the gaze on the task, 10% on the director's face and less than 0.5% elsewhere. Turn shift, primarily requests for clarification, and back channelling significantly predicted the executors' gaze to the face of the task director. The distribution of types of requests showed that requests for previously unmentioned information were significantly more likely to be associated with gaze at the director.


The study shows that the executors' gaze at the director accompanies important dynamic shifts in the dialogue. The association with requests for clarification indicates that gaze at the director can be used to monitor the response with two modalities. Furthermore, the significantly higher association with requests for previously unmentioned information indicates that gaze may be used to emphasize the verbal content. The results will be used as a reference for studies of gaze behaviour in clinical populations with hearing and language impairments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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