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On the interaction of affect and information transfer in cross-disciplinary dialogue

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Hubbs G, Crowley S, Gonnerman C, Hall K, Hall T, Malavisi A, O'Rourke M, Rinkus M, Robinson B, Vasko S. On the interaction of affect and information transfer in cross-disciplinary dialogue. Oral presentation at 2017 SciTS Conference. Clearwater Beach, FL. Jun 14, 2017. Dialogue Approaches To Build Bridges Across Disciplines And Perspectives. Online at:

Collaborative research distributes the effort of understanding the world across a team, which makes communication among collaborators critical. In this talk, a familiar distinction between relational and transactional communication [1]—i.e., between the affective character of communication and its informational character—guides our inquiry into two key aspects of communication within research teams. First, on the relational side, a research team benefits when its emotional context encourages open communication [2]. Second, on the transactional side, a team benefits when the claims exchanged by team members can be criticized, improving their accuracy and increasing the amount of information generated (cf. [3]). These two aspects are in tension. Efforts to encourage openness can be interpreted as discouraging criticism, whereas feedback perceived as critical can be silencing. This tension is exacerbated in research contexts where new ways of understanding can challenge existing standards of accuracy, making it difficult to adjudicate critical exchanges in ways that preserve openness. And to further complicate matters, research in crossdisciplinary contexts puts in play distinct and possibly incompatible standards of accuracy. The competing needs of openness and criticism must be managed to maximize innovation and insight, but successful management requires an understanding of how they are related to one another. In this talk, we examine the hypothesis that within the context of cross-disciplinary collaborative research the quality of emotional context (positive/negative) is directly correlated with the quality of information transfer within communicative episodes. Our investigation involves close examination of structured, 1-2 hour “Toolbox” dialogues involving conversation among cross-disciplinary scientific teammates about the beliefs and values that shape their approach to science and their common project. Six of these dialogues involving cross-disciplinary research teams have been divided into 102 threads comprising thematically related speaking turns, and each of these turns is coded for both conversational function (e.g., new information, question) and impact (e.g., increase self-awareness, increase teamawareness). Based on the codes, the threads have been judged exemplary, middle, or failed for the quality of their contribution to mutual understanding. In investigating our hypothesis, we assess the quality of information transfer within a communication episode using expert codes of transcripts. To provide an assessment of emotional context of conversations we use the IBM Tone Analyzer [4] to yield a construct that we call the “emotional valence” of the conversational thread. After describing the development and testing of our methodology, we evaluate the relationships among thread quality and emotional valence. Our evaluation also includes assessment of dependencies between thread quality and certain demographic variables that may influence the affective character of communication, e.g., gender and career stage.

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Type of Publication:

Oral presentation


scits 2017 conference, presentation, interaction, affect, information, transfer, cross disciplinary

Addresses these goal(s):

  • Learn about the field of team science: history, theory and concepts
  • Conduct research on/evaluate team science

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Resource created by Jane Hwang on 10/5/2017 3:39:40 PM.

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