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2 What is Miscommunication?


Miscommunication is one particular case of a lack of alignment of agents' mental state, specifically one in which they diverge on the occurrence or results of communication. As Austin [Austin1962] noted, communication is action, and thus miscommunication can be viewed as instances of action failure (when the speaker fails to produce the intended effect), misperception (when the hearer cannot recognize what the speaker intended to communicate), or both. We represent a communicative act as (1), where tex2html_wrap_inline435 means agent A performed action tex2html_wrap_inline437 and tex2html_wrap_inline439 means that action tex2html_wrap_inline437 has communicative meaning tex2html_wrap_inline443 .


The type of miscommunication can now be classified as to the source of the non-alignment about the communicative act - whether the problem was recognizing the action as having occurred, or interpreting the meaning. Clark [Clark1994] identifies 4 different levels of conversation at which problems for maintaining common ground may arise. In [Dillenbourg et al. 1996], we discuss these levels and generalize them to apply to grounding in multi-modal collaboration. We take up these points again in the next section, but here we can apply them specifically to aspects of miscommunication, as shown in Table 1, and identify several sources for a disparity in belief about (0).

1 tex2html_wrap_inline437 was not accessible to B (B never received any communication to interpret)
2 tex2html_wrap_inline437 was accessible to B, but B didn't perceive tex2html_wrap_inline437 (and thus formed no beliefs about the communicative intent)
3 B perceives tex2html_wrap_inline437 , but doesn't understand tex2html_wrap_inline437 as meaning tex2html_wrap_inline443 . If tex2html_wrap_inline459 , for some tex2html_wrap_inline461 , then this is a case of true misunderstanding. If there is no tex2html_wrap_inline443 , then this is non-understanding.
4B believes tex2html_wrap_inline465 . This is not a case of actual misunderstanding (since B also believes tex2html_wrap_inline445 ) , but disagreement about the content, e.g., mis-interpretation or misconception. Still, this is often ambiguous with actual misunderstanding and is a frequent motivation for repair.
Table 1: Sources of miscommunication


Also, the results of perception or action may also indicate that other related beliefs are not consistent with the beliefs of others or the facts in the world (some sort of misconception), and lead to other action to reconcile this non-alignment. We consider miscommunication as part of a more general framework of lack of alignment of agents mental states, and actions to repair miscommunication as cases of acting to reduce this non-alignment. As example of non-alignment of mental state, considering belief, two agents A and B are not aligned if there is some tex2html_wrap_inline469 such that (1) holds. Miscommunication is where this tex2html_wrap_inline469 takes the form of (0), and the discrepancy can be any of the cases shown in table 1.


In general, however, the communicative situation is more complex than just a comparison between the mental states of two communicating agents - there is also the world in which the agents are embedded and communicating about. It is also possible for agents' mental states to get out of alignment with the world; an objective misconception by an agent takes place when the agent's beliefs do not reflect the actual state of the world, as in (1).


In addition to communicating with each other, the agents can perceive and act in the world, as illustrated in Figure 1. Thus we must also consider cases in which agents do not perform the action that they intended or in which they perceive the world incorrectly.

Figure 1: Communication and Action in the World

Additionally, action and perception in the world can be used for implicit communication, conveying information to an observer without an explicit natural language utterance. Thus, in reality, Figure 1 should have all communication between agents channeled through the perception and action in the world, although some actions will have communication as their primary, conventional (illocutionary) purpose, while others may have the communication only as a perlocutionary effect.

The relation of the world to the mental states of agents plays an important role in both miscommunication and recovery from miscommunication. First, errors in action or perception are often the cause of the lack of alignment in mental state which causes the miscommunication. Secondly, the world can be a prime resource for recognizing mistakes and arbitrating between conflicting interpretations. Looking again at Figure 1, we can see that there are at least three different vantage points for considering miscommunication: the objective (view of the ``world''), and the views of each of the two agents.

A subjective viewpoint of non-alignment is achieved by embedding (-1) or (0) within the beliefs of A or B.gif It is this subjective view of non-alignment which will be the (partial) motivation for communication.

A very general case of non-alignment is where the object tex2html_wrap_inline469 is simply a belief held by one agent and not another. This can be the main motivation for performing acts such as tex2html_wrap_inline437 in the first place, including both initial presentations, and acknowledgments as well as repairs of miscommunication. We now consider some approaches to the more general problem of reaching alignment (or common ground) in mental state, including, but not limited to repairing miscommunication.

next up previous
Next: 3 Grounding Up: Miscommunication in Multi-modal Collaboration Previous: 1 Overview

David Traum
Thu May 23 21:12:30 MET DST 1996