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Max Planck Research Group "Neural Mechanisms of Human Communication"

Group Leader

Human Communication

Although it seems easy, communicating with another person is an extremely difficult and complex task. In a conversation between two people, there is a continuous stream of dynamic information from several sensory modalities. Embedded into this continuous stream there is information which is important for successful interaction with others; this stream contains not only information about what is said, but also about the identity, character, social status or emotion of the speaker. The task of communication is made even more complex by the need to produce and recognize signals and their underlying meaning online, i.e., without much delay. It is fascinating that our brain can do all this given the sheer speed of communication e.g. the rapidly changing face movements and associated speech sounds. Currently it is impossible to build devices that can communicate as we do. The best computer programs developed to recognize speech or identify people are still far away from the capabilities of our brains.

Neural Mechanisms

The question is: How does the brain accomplish fast and robust communication? One way of finding out is to observe the brain and infer what neural mechanisms are used. To do this we perform experiments using a broad methodological approach (e.g. functional and structural MRI, MEG, tDCS, eye-tracking) and advanced analysis techniques. Our research involves different participant groups, i.e. healthy controls, as well as people with selective developmental or acquired deficits (developmental dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, phonagnosia, and developmental prosopagnosia). In addition we have recently started to use the experimental findings on neural mechanisms to motivate computational models of human communication.

Current Projects

Currently, our work focuses on three aspects of auditory and face-to-face communication:
i. Speech recognition: How do we understand what somebody is saying?
ii. Person recognition: How do we recognize and identify others?
iii. How does information from different sensory modalities interact during face-to-face communication?

Selected Publications:

Speech Recognition

[1] Díaz B, Hintz F, Kiebel SJ, von Kriegstein K: Dysfunction of the auditory thalamus in developmental dyslexia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012, 109:13841-6. pdf
[2] Yildiz IB, von Kriegstein K, Kiebel SJ: From birdsong to human speech recognition: Bayesian inference on a hierarchy of nonlinear dynamical systems. PLoS Computational Biology 2013, 9: e1003219. pdf
[3] von Kriegstein K, Smith DRR, Patterson RD, Kiebel SJ, Griffiths TD: How the human brain recognises speech in the context of changing speakers. J Neurosci 2010, 30: 629-38. pdf

Person Recognition

[1] Roswandowitz, C., Mathias, S. R., Hintz, F., Kreitewolf, J., Schelinski, S., & von Kriegstein, K. (2014). Two cases of selective developmental voice-recognition impairments. Current Biology, 24(19), 2348-2353. pdf
[2] Blank H, Anwander A, von Kriegstein K: Direct structural connections between voice- and face-recognition areas. J Neurosci 2011, 31: 12906-12915. pdf
[3] von Kriegstein K, Smith DRR, Patterson RD, Ives DT, Griffiths TD: Neural representation of auditory size in the human voice and in sounds from other resonant sources. Curr Biol 2007, 17: 1123-1128. pdf

Face-to-face Communication

[1] von Kriegstein K, Dogan O, Gruter M, Giraud AL, Kell CA, Gruter T et al.: Simulation of talking faces in the human brain improves auditory speech recognition. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2008, 105: 6747-6752. pdf
[2] Riedel P, Ragert P, Schelinski S, Kiebel SJ, von Kriegstein K: Visual face-movement sensitive cortex is relevant for auditory-only speech recognition. Cortex 2014 pii: S0010-9452(14)00404-3. pdf
[3] Mayer KM, Yildiz IB, Macedonia M, von Kriegstein K: Visual and motor cortices differentially support the translation of foreign language words. Curr Biol 2015, 25:530-5. pdf

Group Members and Associated Researchers

Funding Sources

European Research Council (ERC) (Consolidator Grant awarded in 2015)

Job opportunities

We are currently looking for a postdoc to join our group. For more information see here

Association with PhD schools and Exchange Networks

Student exchange network in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience
Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, Leipzig, Germany


Stefan Kiebel TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Tim Griffiths Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, London, UK
Roy Patterson University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Etienne Gaudrain MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK
Martina and Thomas Grüter

Former Group Members

• Begoña Diaz: now University Pompeu Fabra,Barcelona, Spain with a Marie Curie Grant
• Katja Mayer: now clinical psychologist training in Münster, Germany
• Sam Mathias: now postdoc at Yale School of Medicine/Olin Neuropsychiatric Research Center, USA
• Helen Blank: now postdoc at MRC-CBU, Cambridge, UK
• Sonja Schall
• Jens Kreitewolf: now postdoc at Department of Neuropsychology, MPI-CBS, Leipzig, Germany
• Philipp Riedel: now physician at Psychiatry Department, TU Dresden, Germany


Last update: Mar 26, 2015 10.21.31 am
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