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NESTCOM: What it Means to Communicate

Understanding, Integrating and Disseminating NEST Project Results on verbal and visual Communication and beyond

EU Project started 1.1.2007

Activity code “NEST-2005-Path-HUM” (for “What it means to be human”)

Project Description

A wealth of new knowledge has been produced by recent NEST projects exploring verbal and visual communication. Topics have included learning by imitation, the origin of human rule based reasoning, the neural origins of language, the connection between verbal and nonverbal communication, a characterisation of human language by structural complexity, and how abstract concepts are represented. In this Specific Support Action and proposal NESTCOM we propose to emphasise the interdisciplinary element by focusing on the central question “what it means to communicate”. As our main focus we will explore the characteristics of human communication and their relationships to the role of networks of mirror neurons. These neurons spike when a primate performs an action leading to a reward and when it observes another primate taking that action. They have been found in monkeys in Area F5. Area F5 is important in humans, because it is Broca’s area, playing a role in speech, and suggesting that mirror neurons are central for action understanding, imitation and communication development. The development of speech in human infants seems to involve an ‘understanding’ of the reward system of the other mind, and probably involves these neurons. This suggests the results of earlier NEST projects may be partially unified and explained by processes involving mirror neurons. The need now is for careful development and communication of experimental hypotheses for investigation by future projects, and that is the goal of this proposal. This particular conceptual and practical issue raises the focus of ongoing specific research to more global issues and considers how higher cognitive faculties might relate to human communication. In support of the NEST initiative we will produce an interdisciplinary roadmap connecting the NEST results with the concepts of mirror neuron theory, leading to a better understanding of the neural, computational, and social aspects of communication and cognition.

Project Deliverables
Some NESTCOM project reports are now available to download. To access the reports, use the Reports link on the left hand side of the page.