Seminar Series

Neural mechanisms of mutual understanding

How can we understand each other? Knowing the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting mutual understanding is important for capturing a fundamental human ability, the ability to share our thoughts and beliefs with others. A common language might help human communication, but we know that mutual understanding does not depend on a shared idiom, as shown among others by infants and foreign tourists. In this talk I will elaborate on the neural mechanisms supporting the human ability to create mutual understanding during social interaction. I will describe empirical evidence suggesting that that when people try to understand each other, their brains are not particularly focused on the occurrence of individual communicative signals. Instead, those brains are temporally synchronized to the emergence of common ground between interlocutors, with the same neuronal mechanism operating during both production and comprehension of communicative behaviors. These findings have implications for understanding communicative alterations in a range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, the development of communicative competence in children, and for designing robots tailored to how humans communicate.