In 2018, LiI issued an open external Synergy Call to further trigger and reward innovative, interdisciplinary, and more than “business as usual” research. After careful judgement of all submitted proposals by the Assessment Committee based on the preset criteria, one proposal was granted and the project “Communication in Context” submitted by Dr. Arjen Stolk and Dr. Jana Basnakova. The project started in the fall of 2019.
The dedicated website for the Synergy Project can be found here.
Communication in Context
A major challenge of understanding the human language faculty is to account for the extreme flexibility with which humans employ their words and gestures in everyday communicative interactions. We seem to be endowed with a remarkable ability to rapidly find relevant context for understanding and using intrinsically ambiguous communicative behaviors. The Synergy project aims to understand what counts as context and how that context determines the meaning of an utterance.
Across several interrelated projects, we will test the notion that a large portion of the context is contingent on joint knowledge implied by the ongoing interaction between interlocutors, i.e. a flexible and mutually coordinated ‘shared conceptual space’. First, neural mechanisms will be identified critically supporting shared conceptual spaces by having people interact in novel communicative settings minimizing the need for the use of pre-existing shared representations. This is achieved through dual-fMRI and dual-EEG studies in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) examining the possibility that the poor communication and interaction abilities characteristic of ASD are caused by difficulties in using the conceptual space defined by the ongoing interaction.
Second, neural mechanisms will be identified constraining the meaning of utterances during controlled dialogs. This is achieved through combined eye-tracking and fMRI/EEG studies in ASD individuals quantitatively varying the strength of conflicting semantic constraints on the communicative meaning of verbal and gestural utterances. Overall, using specially designed experimental protocols, the studies aim to provide a new theoretical and empirical foundation for understanding human communication, as well as a new window into understanding and treating disorders of human communication in neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders.