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The complexities of verbal communication

A conversation is a complex joint activity that requires interlocutors to automatically switch between language production and comprehension. EU-funded research investigated the coupling between language production and comprehension during verbal communication.
The complexities of verbal communication
To date, most research on language processing has been done for language production and language comprehension as separate processes. The project LAJA (Language and joint action) endeavoured to learn more about language processing in a conversation. It explored how prediction and monitoring – two fundamental processes that contribute to any successful joint action – are engaged during verbal communication. As such, researchers formulated two related questions: 'What is being predicted from others' speech?' and 'How are monitoring processes engaged during verbal actions?'

To answer the first question, the project carried out three experiments. One revealed that the involvement of language production in given speaking and listening tasks clearly modulated brain responses. The second experiment, which examined prediction processes in the presence of an interlocutor, showed that interacting with others impacts how we anticipate their upcoming speech.

In the third experiment, the team tested how task similarity modulates prediction processes. LAJA found that participants' responses were affected by the response of their partners. This revealed a facilitation effect for participants performing phonological tasks but not for those performing semantic tasks. While models of speech production assume that semantic processing occurs earlier than phonological processing, these results indicate that task co-representation only takes place when representing another's task does not interfere with the task at hand.

To answer the second question LAJA tested whether brain signatures associated with error detection occur similarly for own and others' verbal errors. Results revealed that brain responses (registered using electroencephalography) were similarly modulated for own and other's errors. Additionally, the test showed that only own errors elicited electrical modulations before producing the error. This supports the existence of an internal speech monitoring mechanism that detects speech errors before they are made.

The results of the four experiments offer evidence on how language processing is modulated during verbal interaction, contributing to our understanding of language as a joint action. Given that in today's online world there are fewer face to face encounters, it is important to understand how verbal interactions shape the cognitive processes engaged by individuals in social contexts.

Related information


Verbal communication, conversation, language, joint action, language processing, LAJA
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