RESEARCHING LISTENING FROM THE INSIDE OUT: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CONVERSATIONAL LISTENING SPAN AND PERCEIVED COMMUNICATIVE COMPETENCE

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2004-04-30

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Listening research has been a challenge, as there is lack of agreement as to what constitutes listening (Glenn, 1989; Witkin, 1990). This lack of agreement has spawned over 50 definitions and models for listening, but not one testable theory. Most models and definitions were developed in the early 1970s, and listening researchers grounded their work in the popular attention and memory theorists of the day including Broadbent, Treisman, and Kahneman. Attention and memory models of this time period were linear in nature and popularized with the notion of short-term memory/long-term memory (Driver, 2001). The Working Memory theory (WM) was introduced by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974, and by 1980 it had become the dominant theoretical perspective. WM is a fixed-capacity system accounting for both processing and storage functions. However, a close inspection of past and present listening definitions and models reveal that they all are built, implicitly or explicitly, on the unsupported linear attention and memory research.

This study first provides a comprehensive chronological overview of both listening models and attention and memory models. A cognitive listening capacity instrument, the Conversational Listening Span (CLS), is proposed, tested, and validated. The CLS is grounded in WM and acts as a proxy measure for the biological construct of conversational listening capacity. Conversational listening capacity is defined as the number of cognitive meanings that one can hold active and respond to within the course of a conversation.

Communibiologists assert that communication behaviors are a function of biological systems (Beatty & McCroskey, 2001). Thus, the CLS, a biological measure, is used to predict perceived communicative competence. Thus, this study (N=467) investigates the role of CLS on perceived communicative competence. 

Four hypotheses are advanced and ultimately supported:

H1: Conversational Listening Span will have a direct relationship with the reading span, the listening span, and the speaking span. H2: Conversational Listening Span will have a direct relationship with perceived interpersonal competence as well as communicative competence. H3: Listening Span and Conversational Listening Span will predict one's communicative competence. H4: Those with greater interest (high) in their conversational topic area will score higher on the CLS than those with lower interest in their topic area.

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