PhD Project 9

Neurocomputational mechanisms of communicative pointing


PhD-candidate: Tobias Winner
PIs: Ivan Toni (WP1) and Pieter Medendorp (WP4)
Start date: 15 October 2014

(last update 2019-06-27)

Research Content

Pointing movements can serve instrumental goals (“pointing to press a button”) or communicative goals (“pointing to indicate to someone else which button to press”). This project is concerned with understanding how the cognitive structures required to organize this communicative behaviour interface with the control variables and neurophysiological mechanisms that ultimately shape our communicative actions. By testing four hypotheses on whether and how the control of communicative actions differs from the control of instrumental actions, the control parameters, computational structure, and neural implementation will be identified of how humans convey meaning with an action.

Progress 2018

Analyses of behavioural data have demonstrated that communicative pointing movements are modulated in way that make them more legible (i.e., informative) from the visuospatial perspective of the addressee. An EEG experiment has been conducted to investigate the neural mechanisms that govern the production of legible pointing movements. Finally, a computational model has been developed to explain and predict the effects of legibility demands on communicative pointing trajectories.

Groundbreaking characteristics

This project seeks to explore the neural basis of communicative actions from the perspective of action preparation and control. As such it is closely linked to project 12, which focuses on the neural processes allowing an addressee to understand the message communicated through an action or gesture.
Although this project is primarily in the domain of cognitive neuroscience it has substantial involvement of "experimental psychology". The innovative aspect lies in the combination of human communication with formal cognitive modelling, optimal control theory, and neuroimaging .