Pragmatics in the Brain - MINDLab


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Pragmatics in the Brain

Coordinator: Mikkel Wallentin
Center for Semiotics
Arts, Aarhus University

Research topic 1 The Pragmatics in the Brain group aims to develop cognitive models of how interpretation and comprehension of communication with different types of signs, such as whole text (Togeby 2003) and diagrams (Stjernfelt 2007) are processed. Evaluation includes empirical testing of comprehension experiences. 

Research topic 2 Complementary to Research topic 1 is the group’s use of neuroimaging techniques to investigate how the brain comprehends communication, an approach that focuses on the interaction between all brain regions involved in communication processing, including the classical language regions (Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas), working-memory regions (e.g. parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal areas), long-term memory regions (e.g. hippocampus), and structures processing social motivation and reward (e.g. medial prefrontal areas and striatum). The group has already shown the potential of mapping pragmatic elements of language comprehension in the brain (Wallentin 2006, 2008). The vision is to drive this methodology even further towards studying natural language comprehension as it unfolds. Contextualized language paradigms, e.g. involving constructions/scripts, perspective shifts and narrative structure (e.g. beginning-middle-end, premise-conclusion) enable us to analyze neural responses on multiple levels of abstraction, thus revealing the specificity or generalizability of function in areas, such as Broca’s region. Our hypothesis is that this region is involved in monitoring linguistic context shifts at all levels. 

Research strategy: The Pragmatics in the Brain group works on developing new tools for investigating on-line comprehension of complex communication. One approach is “inter-subject reverse correlation”, which implies that, in addition to looking for brain regions that respond to specific language stimuli, we search for areas of a text/communication that consistently cause specific brain regions (e.g. Broca’s) to respond. This involves taking into account the possible within subject co-variation between behavioral variables and the haemodynamic signal obtained by the scanner. 

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Revised 7-5-2012