New research programme in communication

Jon Sutton reports.

A major new €3.5million research initiative led by psychologists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will aim to improve understanding of a fundamental part of communication in humans.

Over four years, 13 different projects will explore deictic communication, which forms the crucial connection between language and objects and locations in the world. It allows speakers to direct attention to particular parts of the spatial world, for example ‘this mobile phone’ or ‘that set of keys’. Deictic communication is critical to understanding human-to-human interaction, and human-to-system interaction in a range of technology applications – from mobile phones to intelligent robots. It also has the potential to enhance clinical and educational interventions, for example for stroke patients and those with autism spectrum disorder.

The programme, called DComm, will see UEA work with 11 European partner organisations, including Plymouth University in the UK, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, industry experts and organisations specialising in software and technology development, architecture and brain rehabilitation.

Professor Kenny Coventry, head of the School of Psychology at UEA and DComm coordinator, said: ‘Communication involves a combination of language and gestures that act together. Deictic communication is critical to understanding not only how communication develops typically in a range of spoken and signed languages, but also when communication can potentially break down in a range of clinical and atypically developing populations. DComm will train researchers in both the basic science of deictic communication and in application, with a broad range of potential beneficiaries in both the private and public sectors.’

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