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Human communication as joint epistemic engineering

Project description

Reading between the lines together: joint control of communicative context

Every day, we interpret information based on its context. This already complex process is even more remarkable when individuals communicate – people differ, yet both parties often interpret ambiguous signals by converging on the same context. The ERC-funded MINDSHARING project will integrate computational, developmental and cognitive neuroscience to understand how joint control of communicative context is algorithmically defined, culturally acquired and neurally implemented. Specifically, context-sensitive neural networks will enable identification of potential universal communicative control parameters. Longitudinal studies will address sociocultural factors modulating acquisition of communicative abilities. Finally, perturbation and imaging of neural dynamics during communication will shed light on the neural mechanisms of joint control of communicative context.


Imagine ordering a drink at a diner, pointing at an empty glass as an attentive waiter passes by. How did you select that particular gesture, and how could the waiter possibly interpret it as you intended? As any other signal we use to communicate daily, that gesture is highly ambiguous outside its context of use. How can human communication work by using referentially flexible and contextually dependent signals? MINDSHARING argues that interlocutors are communicatively effective because they jointly control their interaction-specific shared context.
MINDSHARING integrates computational, developmental, and cognitive neuroscience to understand how that control is algorithmically defined, culturally acquired, and neurally implemented.
First, using context-sensitive neural networks, MINDSHARING identifies communicative control parameters during interactive multi-turn linguistic and non-verbal referential games, then assesses the value of those parameters as potential communicative universals across worldwide cultures. Second, using prospective longitudinal studies, MINDSHARING identifies the socio-cultural experiences that influence the acquisition of communicative abilities during ontogenetic development. Third, using concurrent brain stimulation and imaging in communicating dyads, MINDSHARING tracks and perturbs the neural dynamics of communicative control parameters as dyads continuously adjust their shared context to novel communicative challenges.
MINDSHARING provides a novel causal account of a foundational element of human society, the ability to communicate with referentially flexible signals. MINDSHARING brings computational, cultural, and neurocognitive explanations into the inter-personal space where communication is used and where it is learned. MINDSHARING will deliver what existing accounts have not delivered yet, multi-level causal explanations of the multi-level human ability to communicate with referentially flexible and contextually dependent signals.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 499 105,00
6525 XZ Nijmegen

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Oost-Nederland Gelderland Arnhem/Nijmegen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 499 105,00

Beneficiaries (1)