Language in action -
Language is not just a bunch of sentences waiting to be coded or decoded. It helps us coordinate with others to get things done or share experiences, it supports the development and maintenance of social relationships and culture, and it helps us to think about problems we encounter in the world.
In the Language in Action cognitive neuroscience project, we examine the neural and cognitive architecture of the language system when embedded in richer social, physical, or discourse contexts than typically studied in the cognitive neuroscience lab. Do classic findings on linguistic coding and decoding scale up in situations where language is used for a purpose? What neural and cognitive architecture supports context-dependent aspects of language use, such as inferences about the speaker and his or her state of mind? In what way does the core neural machinery studied in the Unification project interact with other brain systems, such as those involved in vision, motor behavior, attention, affective evaluation, the pursuit of goals, and episodic memory of prior discourse? Does our body matter to how we use language?
We share core interests with the Multi-Modal Interaction project, and actively exploit this common ground. More so than in the latter project, however, we aim to characterize not only the functional but ultimately also the neural architecture supporting language in action, and we pursue this in well-controlled laboratory experiments involving a wide range of neuroimaging, Virtual Reality, and behavioral paradigms.
Work in the Language in Action project currently clusters in two domains:
(1) The cognitive neuroscience of dialogue. How does our brain support dialogue, the archetypical use of language? The functional and neural architecture that supports sentence and text comprehension is relatively well-described. To what extent is the same architecture involved in dialogue, where two or more interlocutors jointly define the communicative exchange in real time? What additional systems are recruited to manage the social and informational demands in dialogue?
(2) The language/valence interface. Language greatly amplifies our species’ preexisting abilities to to interact with and reason about the physical and social environment. One critical ingredient of that environment is valence, the intrinsic or experienced attractiveness or aversiveness of an event, object, or situation. In our research on the language/valence interface, we explore the connection between language processing and the affective systems that detect or assign valence.
Contact person: Peter Hagoort