Speaker: Halie Olson, Ph.D. Affiliation: Rebecca Saxe Laboratory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT
Talk title: Conversation in the brain Abstract: Elucidating how the brain processes language, especially during early development, is critical for understanding developmental disorders involving social communication such as autism. Beginning early in life, language is encountered and produced in complex, dynamic, and social contexts – and yet, neural measure typically study language in isolation. We developed a multimodal, child-friendly functional neuroimaging task to allow us to measure language-evoked activation in two contexts: (1) observing two people having a conversation, and (2) observing one person at a time speaking directly to the listener. We first validated this measure in adults, finding robust responses to comprehensible language in both contexts. Canonical language regions did not differentiate between the two contexts, but some theory of mind regions, as well as some right hemisphere homologues of language regions, did respond more strongly to dialogue. In ongoing work, we are using this measure in young children, both as a tool to measure language processing, and as a means to test how language is processed in different social contexts.