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Cerebral coherence between communicators marks the emergence of meaning

Stolk, A., Noordzij, M. L., Verhagen, L., Volman, I., Schoffelen, J.-M., Oostenveld, R., Hagoort, P., & Toni, I. (2014). Cerebral coherence between communicators marks the emergence of meaning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111, 18183-18188. doi:10.1073/pnas.1414886111.
How can we understand each other during communicative interactions? An influential suggestion holds that communicators are primed by each other’s behaviors, with associative mechanisms automatically coordinating the production of communicative signals and the comprehension of their meanings. An alternative suggestion posits that mutual understanding requires shared conceptualizations of a signal’s use, i.e., “conceptual pacts” that are abstracted away from specific experiences. Both accounts predict coherent neural dynamics across communicators, aligned either to the occurrence of a signal or to the dynamics of conceptual pacts. Using coherence spectral-density analysis of cerebral activity simultaneously measured in pairs of communicators, this study shows that establishing mutual understanding of novel signals synchronizes cerebral dynamics across communicators’ right temporal lobes. This interpersonal cerebral coherence occurred only within pairs with a shared communicative history, and at temporal scales independent from signals’ occurrences. These findings favor the notion that meaning emerges from shared conceptualizations of a signal’s use.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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