Interpreting Contradictory Communications: Age and Context Effects

Cynthia Lightfoot, Merry Bullock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This study examined how contradictory verbal-facial communications are understood and resolved at different ages. Preschoolers, grade school children, and adults were asked to interpret videotapes in which an actor conveyed contradictory verbal and facial expressions with and without a story context that provided a reason for the contradiction. Results showed both age and context effects: Whereas younger children were more likely to focus on the literal contents of the verbal or facial components, older subjects were more likely to relate each of the two components to an overall communicative intent. In addition, messages presented within a meaningful context were resolved in a more sophisticated manner than those presented in isolation, although younger children were limited in the extent to which they were helped by the context cues. The results are discussed in terms of the development of understanding message-referent relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)830-836
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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