Neural basis of communication


Communication is at the heart of our social interactions

Verbal communication involving language is more evident; yet, 90% of all social interactions actually rely on non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication involves the processing of information, other than language, crucial for life in society such as age, gender, identity and emotional expressions. The human brain has the extraordinary capacity of processing this information from multiple sensory sources. Research projects developed in the BANCO team are principally focused on understanding the cerebral correlates/mechanisms underlying both verbal and non-verbal communication. We use a variety of complementary research methods to study the neural basis of communication in both human and non-human primates, such as functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion weighted imaging (DWI), electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and behavioral measurements.

The team has been funded between 2012 and 2014 by a Startup grant from Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale.

Ongoing projects

1. Perception of vocal non-verbal information

Researcher: Pascal Belin

PhD students: Virginia Aglieri (AMIDEX studentship) ; Clémentine Bodin (Labex BLRI studentship)

The human voice has become extremely important with evolution as it is the support to articulated language. Its role in verbal communication tends to make us forget that voices also carry a wealth of information important to everyday life such as age, gender, emotion and identity, giving it a crucial role in non-verbal communication. Team projects aim at understanding how voices are perceived, focusing primarily on the processing of paralinguistic information. We are interested in the different stages of voice processing: from their detection to their recognition, and the extraction of emotional and linguistic information. We are also interested in the processing of subtle information such as personality traits. Our approach combines state-of-the-art auditory morphing techniques, manipulation of acoustical stimuli with behavioural studies and neuroimaging techniques.

2. The role of stress in social interactions

Researcher: Stéphanie Khalfa

PhD students : Sarah Boukezzi (DGA studentship), Pierre-François Rousseau (SSA studentship)

A state of stress will modify an individual’s ability to communicate and entertain social interactions. An extreme model is that of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in which persons who experienced a particularly traumatizing event will often isolate themselves and avoid interactions with other people because they become hyper-reactive to sensory stimuli and in parallel can develop emotional blunting towards their friends and family. Our aim is to understand the mechanisms that underlie these disorders of social interactions, and more precisely the interplay between emotions, stress and communication. For this we study the mechanisms underlying fear in PTSD in relation with the symptomatology. We use fMRI and TEP in tasks of fear conditioning and extinction that model very adequately the mechanisms of stress.

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