Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Embodied Communication, Joint Action, Social Understanding

Date: July 5 - 8, 2006
Organizers: Ipke Wachsmuth (Bielefeld), Günther Knoblich (Newark)

Workshop of the ZiF: Research Group 2005/2006 "Embodied Communication in Humans and Machines"

Body to body, face to face - a significant amount of the exchange of information among social partners decisively depends on the presence of an expressive body and its relation to objects and other expressive bodies. How these factors contribute to forming a close "social loop" that supports joint action and social understanding is investigated in an international research group hosted by the ZiF. From October 2005 through September 2006 the research group pursues to develop an integrated perspective of embodiment in communication, involving various disciplines and fields.

Communication scene

Researchers in the cognitive and neurosciences have become increasingly aware of the close links between basic perceptual and motor processes and higher cognitive functions. This development is driven by the discovery that brain areas that have been traditionally linked to motor control appear to play an important role in social understanding ("mirror system"). At the same time, a growing number of researchers agree that language appears to be grounded in perception-action systems, and that the separation between (active) senders and (passive) listeners in traditional communication models is an inadequate view of highly interactive communication partners.
The construction of robots engaging in interaction with humans and/or other robots also creates the necessity to bridge the still existing gap between basic forms of interaction, such as carrying a table together, gestural, and language-based communication. The principles roboticists have defined in designing such systems can provide important impulses for further empirical research on social interaction. At the same time, the results obtained in cognitive neuroscience may prove useful in constraining the design of interactive robots.
As the third thematic workshop in a series of three, this workshop aims at exploring how perceptual, motor, and cognitive processes that enable social understanding and basic forms of joint action can be understood as precursors to more complex forms of human communication. Invitees should be willing to share their perspectives with the resident ZiF fellows and to discuss the results of the research group obtained so far. Topics will include: Motor contributions to action perception; cognitive and brain processes supporting collaboration; collaborative robots; human-robot interaction; intention understanding; theory of mind; embodiment and meaning; alignment in language understanding; conversation as joint action.

In a public lecture that is closely connected to the topic od the workshop, the anthropologist Michael Tomasello will attempt o give an answer to the question "why don't apes point?" on the evening of July 4. You can find more information on the event's webpage.

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